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Reminiscences of WILLIAM JAMES and 
JOSIAH ROYCE and Academic Life in 











First published 192 


MANY of these Soliloquies have appeared in The Athenaeum, 
and one or more in The London Mercury, The Nation, The 
New Republic, The Dial, and The Journal of Philosophy. 
The author s thanks are due to the Editors of all these 
reviews for permission to reprint the articles. 

For convenience, three Soliloquies on Liberty, written 
in 1915, have been placed in the second group ; and perhaps 
it should be added that not a few of the later pieces were 
written in France, Spain, or Italy, although still for the 
most part on English themes and under the influence of 
English impressions. 






1. ATMOSPHERE . . . . .n 

2. GRISAILLE . . . / . .13 

3. PRAISES OF WATER . . . .15 



6. CLOUD CASTLES . . . . .19 

7. CROSS-LIGHTS . . . . -23 

8. HAMLET S QUESTION . . . .27 


10. SEAFARING . . . . . .32 

11. PRIVACY . . . . . -35 


13. DONS . . . . . -43 

14. APOLOGY FOR SNOBS . . . -45 

15. THE HIGHER SNOBBERY . . . .49 


17. FRIENDSHIPS . . . . -55 

1 8. DICKENS ..... eg 

19. THE HUMAN SCALE . . . .73 


21. THE ENGLISH CHURCH . . . -83 

22. LEAVING CHURCH . . . .88 

23. DEATH-BED MANNERS . . . .90 




24. WAR SHRINES . . . . .92 

25. TIPPERARY . . . / -99 

26. SKYLARKS . . . . . .107 

27. AT HEAVEN S GATE . . . . 113 


28. SOCIETY AND SOLITUDE . . v . 119 

29. IMAGINATION . . . .122 

30. THE WORLD S A STAGE . . . .126 

31. MASKS . . . . . . 128 

32. THE TRAGIC MASK. .. . . .131 

33. THE COMIC MASK . , . . .135 

34. CARNIVAL . . . . . .139 

35. QUEEN MAB .... . 144 


37. THE CENSOR AND THE POET . . . 155 



40. CLASSIC LIBERTY . . . . . 165 

41. GERMAN FREEDOM . . . . . 169 




45. OCCAM S RAZOR . . . . .194 

46. EMPIRICISM. . . , . , 198 



49. THE PSYCHE . . . . > 217 

50. REVERSION TO PLATONISM . . . ;. 224 

51. IDEAS .... . 228 

52. THE MANSIONS OF HELEN . . . . 236 





THE outbreak of war in the year 1914 found me by chance 
in England, and there I remained, chiefly at Oxford, until 
the day of the peace. During those five years, in rambles 
to Iffley and Sandford, to Godstow and Wytham, to the 
hospitable eminence of Chilswell, to Wood Eaton or 
Nuneham or Abingdon or Stanton Harcourt, 

Crossing the stripling Thames at Bab-lock-hithe, 

these Soliloquies were composed, or the notes scribbled 
from which they have been expanded. Often over Port 
Meadow the whirr of aeroplanes sent an iron tremor through 
these reveries, and the daily casualty list, the constant sight 
of the wounded, the cadets strangely replacing the under 
graduates, made the foreground to these distances. Yet 
nature and solitude continued to envelop me in their 
gentleness, and seemed to remain nearer to me than all 
that was so near. They muffled the importunity of the 
hour ; perhaps its very bitterness and incubus of horror 
drove my thoughts deeper than they would otherwise 
have ventured into the maze of reflection and of dreams. 
It is a single maze, though we traverse it in opposite moods, 
and distinct threads conduct us ; for when the most dire 
events have assumed their punctiform places in the history 
of our lives, where they will stand eternally, what are 
they but absurd episodes in a once tormenting dream ? 
And when our despised night-dreams are regarded and 
respected as they deserve to be (since all their troubles are 
actual and all their tints evident), do they prove more 
arbitrary or less significant than our waking thoughts, or 
than those more studious daylight fictions which we call 
history or philosophy ? The human mind at best is a sort 

I B 


of song ; the music of it runs away with the words, and 
even the words, which pass for the names of things, are but 
poor wild symbols for their unfathomed objects. So are 
these Soliloquies compared with their occasions ; and I 
should be the first to hate their verbiage, if a certain 
spiritual happiness did not seem to breathe through it, 
and redeem its irrelevance. Their very abstraction from 
the time in which they were written may commend them 
to a free mind. Spirit refuses to be caught in a vice ; it 
triumphs over the existence which begets it. The moving 
I world which feeds it is not its adequate theme. Spirit 
hates its father and its mother. It spreads from its burn 
ing focus into the infinite, careless whether that focus burns 
to ashes or not. From its pinnacle of earthly time it 
pours its little life into spheres not temporal nor earthly, 
and half in playfulness, half in sacrifice, it finds its joy in 
the irony of eternal things, which know nothing of it. 

Spirit, however, cannot fly from matter without 
material wings ; the most abstract art is compacted of 
images, the most mystical renunciation obeys some passion 
of the heart. Images and passion, even if they are not 
easily recognizable in these Soliloquies as now coldly 
written down, were not absent from them when inwardly 
spoken. The images were English images, the passion 
was the love of England and, behind England, of Greece. 
What I love in Greece and in England is contentment in 
finitude, fair outward ways, manly perfection and simplicity. 
Admiration for England, of a certain sort, was instilled 
into me in my youth. My father (who read the language 
with ease although he did not speak it) had a profound 
respect for British polity and British power. In this 
admiration there was no touch of sentiment nor even of 
sympathy ; behind it lay something like an ulterior con 
tempt, such as we feel for the strong man exhibiting at i 
fair. The performance may be astonishing but the achieve 
ment is mean. So in the middle of the nineteenth century 
an intelligent foreigner, the native of a country materially 
impoverished, could look to England for a model of that 
irresistible energy and public discipline which afterwards 
were even more conspicuous in Bismarckian Germany and 
in the United States. It was admiration for material 


progress, for wealth, for the inimitable gift of success ; 
and it was not free, perhaps, from the poor man s illusion, 
who jealously sets his heart on prosperity, and lets it blind 
him to the subtler sources of greatness. We should none 
of us admire England to-day, if we had to admire it only 
for its conquering commerce, its pompous noblemen, or its , 
parliamentary government. I feel no great reverence jj 
even for the British Navy, which may be in the junk-shop j | 
to-morrow ; but I heartily like the British sailor, with his 
clear-cut and dogged way of facing the world. It is 
health, not policy nor wilfulness, that gives true strength 
in the moral world, as in the animal kingdom ; nature and 
fortune in the end are on the side of health. There is, or 
was, a beautifully healthy England hidden from most 
foreigners ; the England of the countryside and of the 
poets, domestic, sporting, gallant, boyish, of a sure and 
delicate heart, which it has been mine to feel beating, 
though not so early in my life as I could have wished. In 
childhood I saw only Cardiff on a Sunday, and the docks 
of Liverpool ; but books and prints soon opened to me 
more important vistas. I read the poets ; and although 
British painting, when it tries to idealize human subjects, 
has always made me laugh, I was quick to discern an 
ethereal beauty in the landscapes of Turner. Furgueson s 
Cathedrals of England, too, and the great mansions in the 
Italian style depicted in the eighth edition of the Encyclo 
paedia Britannica, revealed to me even when a boy the 
rare charm that can envelop the most conventional things 
when they are associated with tender thoughts or with 
noble ways of living. 

It was with a premonition of things noble and tender, 
and yet conventional, that after a term at the University 
of Berlin I went to spend my first holidays in England. 
Those were the great free days of my youth. I had lived 
familiarly in Spain and in the United States : I had had 
a glimpse of France and of Germany, and French literature 
had been my daily bread : it had taught me how to think, 
but had not given me much to think about. I was not 
mistaken in surmising that in England I should find a 
tertium quid, something soberer and juster than anything 
I yet knew, and at the same time greener and richer. 


I felt at once that here was a distinctive society, a way of 
living fundamentally foreign to me, but deeply attractive. 
At first all gates seemed shut and bristling with incom- 
munication ; but soon in some embowered corner I found 
the stile I might climb over, and the ancient right of way. 
Those peaceful parks, and those minds no less retired, 
seemed positively to welcome me ; and though I was still 
divided from them by inevitable partitions, these were in 
places so thin and yielding, that the separation seemed 
hardly greater than is requisite for union and sympathy 
between autonomous minds. Indeed, I was soon satisfied 
that no climate, no manners, no comrades on earth (where 
nothing is perfect) could be more congenial to my com 
plexion. Not that I ever had the least desire or tendency 
-to become an Englishman. Nationality and religion are 
like our love and loyalty towards women : things too 
radically intertwined with our moral essence to be changed 
honourably, and too accidental to the free mind to be 
worth changing. My own origins were living within me ; 
by their light I could see clearly that this England was 
pre-eminently the home of decent happiness and a quiet 
pleasure in being oneself. I found here the same sort of 
manliness which I had learned to love in America, yet 
softer, and not at all obstreperous ; a manliness which 
when refined a little creates the gentleman, since its 
instinct is to hide its strength for an adequate occasion 
and for the service of others. It is self-reliant, but with 
a saving touch of practicality and humour ; for there is a 
becoming self-confidence, based on actual performance, 
like the confidence of the athlete, and free from any 
exorbitant estimate of what that performance is worth. 
Such modesty in strength is entirely absent from the 
effusive temperament of the Latin, who is cocky and 
punctilious so long as his conceit holds out, and then 
utterly humbled and easily corrupted ; entirely absent 
also from the doctrinaire of the German school, in his 
dense vanity and officiousness, that nothing can put to 
shame. So much had I come to count on this sort of 
manliness in the friends of my youth, that without it the 
most admirable and gifted persons seemed to me hardly 
men : they fell rather into an ambiguous retinue, the 


camp followers of man, cleverer but meaner than himself 
the priests, politicians, actors, pedagogues, and shop 
keepers. The man is he who lives and relies directly on 
nature, not on the needs or weaknesses of other people. 
These self-sufficing Englishmen, in their reserve and 
decision, seemed to me truly men, creatures of fixed 
rational habit, people in whose somewhat inarticulate 
society one might feel safe and at home. The low pressure 
at which their minds seemed to work showed how little 
they were alarmed about anything : things would all be 
managed somehow. They were good company even when 
they said nothing. Their aspect, their habits, their 
invincible likes and dislikes seemed like an anchor to me 
in the currents of this turbid age. They were a gift of the 
gods, like the sunshine or the fresh air or the memory of 
the Greeks : they were superior beings, and yet more 
animal than the rest of us, calmer, with a different scale 
ot consciousness and a slower pace of thought. There were 
glints in them sometimes of a mystical oddity ; they loved 
the wilds ; and yet ordinarily they were wonderfully sane 
and human, and responsive to the right touch. Moreover, 
these semi-divine animals could talk like men of the world. 
If some of them, and not the least charming, said little 
but "Oh, really," and " How stupid of me," I soon 
discovered how far others could carry scholarly distinction, 
rich humour, and refinement of diction. I confess, however, 
that when they were very exquisite or subtle they seemed 
to me like cut flowers ; the finer they were the frailer, and 
the cleverer the more wrong-headed. Delicacy did not 
come to them, as to Latin minds, as an added ornament, 
a finer means of being passionate, a trill in a song that 
flows full-chested from the whole man ; their purity was 
Puritanism, it came by exclusion of what they thought 
lower. It impoverished their sympathies, it severed them 
from their national roots, it turned to affectation or 
fanaticism, it rendered them acrid and fussy and eccentric 
and sad. It is truly English, in one sense, to fume against 
England, individuality tearing its own nest ; and often 
these frantic poses neutralize one another and do no harm 
on the whole. Nevertheless it is the full-bodied Englishman 
who has so far ballasted the ship, he who, like Shakespeare, 


can wear gracefully the fashion of the hour, can play 
with fancy, and remain a man. When he ceases to be 
sensual and national, adventurous and steady, reticent and 
religious, the Englishman is a mad ghost ; and wherever 
he prevails he turns pleasant England, like Greece, into a 

Those first holidays of mine, when I was twenty-three 
years of age, laid the foundation of a life-long attachment 
of which these Soliloquies are a late fruit to both Oxford 
and Cambridge : not so much to the learned society of 
those places as to their picturesque aspects and to the 
possibility of enjoying there in seclusion the intense com 
panionship of the past and of the beautiful ; also the 
intense companionship of youth, to which more advanced 
years in themselves are no obstacle, if the soul remains 
free. I have never liked the taste of academic straw ; but 
there are fat grains and seeds of novelty even at universities, 
which the lively young wits that twitter in those shades 
pick up like hungry sparrows, yet without unmitigated 
seriousness ; and unmitigated seriousness is always out of 
place in human affairs. Let not the unwary reader think 
me flippant for saying so ; it was Plato, in his solemn old 
age, who said it. He added that our ignominious condition 
forces us, nevertheless, to be often terribly in earnest. 
Wanton and transitory as our existence is, and comic as 
it must appear in the eyes of the happy gods, it is all in 
all to our mortal nature ; and whilst intellectually we may 
judge ourselves somewhat as the gods might judge us, and 
may commend our lives to the keeping of eternity, our 
poor animal souls are caught inextricably in the toils of 
time, which devours us and all our possessions. The artist 
playing a farce for others suffers a tragedy in himself. 
When he aspires to shed as much as possible the delusions 
of earthly passion, and to look at things joyfully and 
unselfishly, with the clear eyes of youth, it is not because 
he feels no weight of affliction, but precisely because he 
feels its weight to the full, and how final it is. Lest it 
should seem inhuman of me to have been piping soliloquies 
whilst Rome was burning, I will transcribe here some 
desperate verses extorted from me by events during those 
same years. I am hardly a poet in the magic sense of the 


word, but when one s thoughts have taken instinctively a 
metrical form, why should they be forbidden to wear it ? 
I do not ask the reader to admire these sonnets, but to 
believe them. 


Cambridge, October 1913 

Grey walls, broad fields, fresh voices, rippling weir, 
I know you well 7 ten faces, for each face 
That passes smiling, haunt this hallowed place, 
And nothing not thrice noted greets me here. 
Soft watery winds, wide twilight skies and clear, 
Refresh my spirit at its founts of grace, 
And a strange sorrow masters me, to pace 
These willowed paths, in this autumnal year. 
Soon, lovely England, soon thy secular dreams, 
Thy lisping comrades, shall be thine no more. 
A world s loosed troubles flood thy gated streams 
And drown, methinks, thy towers ; and the tears start 
As if an iron hand had clutched my heart, 
And knowledge is a pang, like love of yore. 


Oxford, 1915 

Sweet as the lawn beneath his sandalled tread, 
Or the scarce rippled stream beneath his oar, 
So gently buffeted it laughed the more, 
His life was, and the few blithe words he said. 
One or two poets read he, and reread ; 
One or two friends with boyish ardour wore 
Close to his heart, incurious of the lore 
Dodonian woods might murmur overhead. 
Ah, demons of the whirlwind, have a care, 
What, trumpeting your triumphs, ye undo ! 
The earth once won, begins your long despair 
That never, never is his bliss for you. 
He breathed betimes this clement island air 
And in unwitting lordship saw the blue. 


Oxford, 1917 

Smother thy flickering light, the vigil s o er. 
Hope, early wounded, of his wounds is dead. 
Many a night long he smiled, his drooping head 
Laid on thy breast, and that brave smile he wore 
Not yet from his unbreathing lips is fled. 
Enough : on mortal sweetness look no more, 
Pent in this charnel-house, fling wide the door 
And on the stars that killed him gaze instead. 
The world s too vast for hope. The unteachable sun 
Rises again and will reflood his sphere, 
Blotting with light what yesterday was done ; 
But the unavailing truth, though dead, lives on, 
And in eternal night, unkindly clear, 
A cold moon gilds the waves of Acheron. 



THE stars lie above all countries alike, but the atmosphere 
that intervenes is denser in one place than in another ; 
and even where it is purest, if once its atoms catch the 
sunlight, it cuts off the prospect beyond. In some climates 
the veil of earthly weather is so thick and blotted that 
even the plodder with his eyes on the ground finds its 
density inconvenient, and misses his way home. The 
advantage of having eyes is neutralized at such moments, 
and it would be better to have retained the power of going 
on all fours and being guided by scent. In fact human 
beings everywhere are like marine animals and live in a 
congenial watery medium, which like themselves is an 
emanation of mother earth ; and they are content for the 
most part to glide through it horizontally at their native 
level. They ignore the third, the vertical dimension ; or 
if they ever get some inkling of empty heights or rigid 
depths where they could not breathe, they dismiss that 
speculative thought with a shudder, and continue to dart 
about in their familiar aquarium, immersed in an opaque 
fluid that cools their passions, protects their intellect 
from mental dispersion, keeps them from idle gazing, and 
screens them from impertinent observation by those who 
have no business in the premises. 

The stellar universe that silently surrounds them, if 
while swimming they ever think of it, seems to them 
something foreign and not quite credibly reported. How 
should anything exist so unlike home, so out of scale with 
their affairs, so little watery, and so little human ? Their 
philosophers confirm them in that incredulity ; and the 
sea-caves hold conclaves of profound thinkers congregated 



to prove that only fog can be real. The dry, their council 
decrees, is but a vain abstraction, a mere negative which 
human imagination opposes to the moist, of which alone, 
since life is moist, there can be positive experience. 

As for the stars, these inspired children of the mist have 
discovered that they are nothing but postulates of astro 
nomy, imagined for a moment to exist, in order that a 
beautiful human science may be constructed about them. 
Duller people, born in the same fog, may not understand 
so transcendental a philosophy, but they spontaneously 
frame others of their own, not unlike it in principle. In 
the middle of the night, when the starlight best manages 
to pierce to the lowest strata of the air, these good people 
are asleep ; yet occasionally when they are returning 
somewhat disappointed from a party, or when illness or 
anxiety or love-hunger keeps them pacing their chamber 
or tossing in their beds, by chance they may catch a 
glimpse of a star or two twinkling between their curtains. 
Idle objects, they say to themselves, like dots upon the 
wall-paper. Why should there be stars at all, and why 
so many of them ? Certainly they shed a little light and 
are pretty ; and they are a convenience sometimes in the 
country when there is no moon and no lamp-posts ; and 
they are said to be useful in navigation and to enable the 
astronomers to calculate sidereal time in addition to solar 
time, which is doubtless a great satisfaction to them. 
But all this hardly seems to justify such an expense of 
matter and energy as is involved in celestial mechanics. 
To have so much going on so far away, and for such pro 
digious lengths of time, seems rather futile and terrible. 
Who knows ? Astrologers used to foretell people s char 
acter and destiny by their horoscope ; perhaps they may 
turn out to have been more or less right after all, now that 
science is coming round to support more and more what 
our fathers called superstitions. There may be some 
meaning in the stars, a sort of code-language such as 
Bacon put into Shakespeare s sonnets, which would prove 
to us, if we could only read it, not how insignificant, but 
how very important we are in the world, since the very 
stars are talking about us. 

The safest thing, however, is to agree with the great 


idealists, who say there are really no stars at all. Or, if 
their philosophy seems insecure and there are rumours 
that even the professors are hedging on the subject we 
can always take refuge in faith, and think of the heavenly 
bodies as beautiful new homes in which we are to meet 
and work together again when we die ; and as in time we 
might grow weary even there, with being every day busier 
and busier, there must always be other stars at hand for 
us to move to, each happier and busier than the last ; 
and since we wish to live and to progress for ever, the 
number of habitable planets provided for us has to be 
infinite. Certainly faith is far better than science for 
explaining everything. 

So the embryonic soul reasons in her shell of vapour ; 
her huddled philosophy is, as it were, pre-natal, and dis 
credits the possibility of ever peeping into a cold outer 
world. Yet in time this shell may grow dangerously thin 
in places, and a little vague light may filter through. 
Strange promptings and premonitions at the same time 
may visit the imprisoned spirit, as if it might not be im 
possible nor inglorious to venture into a world that was 
not oneself. At last, willy-nilly, the soul may be actually 
hatched, and may suddenly find herself horribly exposed, 
cast perhaps on the Arabian desert, or on some high, 
scorched, open place that resembles it, like the uplands of 
Castile. There the rarefied atmosphere lets the stars down 
upon her overwhelmingly, like a veritable host of heaven. 
There the barren earth entwines few tentacles about the 
heart ; it stretches away dark and empty beneath our 
feet, a mere footstool for meditation. It is a thing to look 
away from, too indifferent and accidental even to spurn ; 
for after all it supports us, and though small and extin 
guished it is one of the stars. In these regions the shepherds 
first thought of God. 


ENGLAND is pre-eminently a land of atmosphere. A 
luminous haze permeates everywhere, softening distances, 


magnifying perspectives, transfiguring familiar objects, 
harmonizing the accidental, making beautiful things 
magical and ugly things picturesque. Road and pavement 
become wet mirrors, in which the fragments of this gross 
world are shattered, inverted, and transmuted into jewels, 
more appealing than precious stones to the poet, because 
they are insubstantial and must be loved without being 
possessed. Mists prolong the most sentimental and sooth 
ing of hours, the twilight, through the long summer 
evenings and the whole winter s day. In these country 
sides so full of habitations and these towns so full of 
verdure, lamplight and twilight cross their rays ; and the 
passers-by, mercifully wrapped alike in one crepuscular 
mantle, are reduced to unison and simplicity, as if sketched 
at one stroke by the hand of a master. 

English landscape, if we think only of the land and 
the works of man upon it, is seldom on the grand scale. 
Charming, clement, and eminently habitable, it is almost 
too domestic, as if only home passions and caged souls 
could live there. But lift the eyes for a moment above 
the line of roofs or of tree-tops, and there the grandeur 
you miss on the earth is spread gloriously before you. 
The spirit of the atmosphere is not compelled, like the god 
of pantheism, to descend in order to exist, and wholly to 
diffuse itself amongst earthly objects. It exists absolutely 
in its own person as well, and enjoys in the sky, like a true 
deity, its separate life and being. There the veil of Maya, 
the heavenly Penelope, is being woven and rent perpetually, 
and the winds of destiny are always charmingly defeating 
their apparent intentions. Here is the playground of 
those early nebulous gods that had the bodies of giants 
and the minds of children. 

In England the classic spectacle of thunderbolts and 
rainbows appears but seldom ; such contrasts are too 
violent and definite for these tender skies. Here the 
conflict between light and darkness, like all other conflicts, 
ends in a compromise ; cataclysms are rare, but revolution 
is perpetual. Everything lingers on and is modified ; all 
is luminous and all is grey. 



THE transformation of landscape by moisture is no matter 
of appearance only, no mere optical illusion or effect of 
liquid stained glass. It is a sort of echo or symbol to 
our senses of very serious events in prehistoric times. 
Water, which now seems only to lap the earth or to cloud 
it, was the chisel which originally carved its surface. 
They say that when the planet, recently thrown off from 
the sun, was still on fire, the lighter elements rose in the 
form of gases around the molten metallic core ; and the 
outer parts of this nucleus in cooling formed a crust of 
igneous rock which, as the earth contracted, was crushed 
together and wrinkled like the skin of a raisin. These 
wrinkles are our mountain chains, made even more rugged 
and villainous by belated eruptions. On that early earth 
there was no water. All was sheer peaks, ledges, and 
chasms, red-hot or coal-black, or of such livid metallic 
hues, crimson, saffron, and purple, as may still be seen 
on the shores of the Dead Sea or in the Grand Canyon of 
the Colorado rifts that allow us to peep into the infernal 
regions, happily in those places at least without inhabitants. 
This hellish sort of landscape, which we must now plunge 
into the depths to find, was the first general landscape of 

As the cooling progressed, however, the steam that 
was in the upper atmosphere began to condense and 
to fall in rain. At first the hot drops no doubt sizzled as 
they fell and rose again immediately in vapour, yet the 
meteorological cycle was established notwithstanding. 
The rain that evaporated descended once more, each 
time colder and more abundant, until it cut channels 
amongst the crags, ground and polished their fragments 
into boulders and pebbles, formed pools in the hollows, 
and finally covered the earth up to its chin with the 
oceans. Much detritus meantime was washed down from 
the rocks ; it gathered in crevices and along the pockets 
and slacker reaches of rivers. This sediment was soaked 


with moisture and mixed with dissolved acids , it became 
the first soft layer of earth and finally a fertile soil. Water 
in this way softened the outlines of the mountains, laid the 
floor of the valleys, and made a leafy and a cloudy place of 
the planet. 

The sages (and some of them much more recent than 
Thales) tell us that water not only wears away the rocks, 
but has a singular power of carrying away their subtler 
elements in solution, especially carbonic acid, of which the 
atmosphere also is full ; and it happens that these elements 
can combine with the volatile elements of water into 
innumerable highly complex substances, all of which the 
atmospheric cycle carries with it wherever it goes ; and with 
these complex substances, which are the requisite materials 
for living bodies, it everywhere fills the sea and impregnates 
the land. 

Even if life, then, is not actually born of the moist 
element, it is at least suckled by it ; the water-laden 
atmosphere is the wet nurse, if not the mother, of the 
earth-soul. The earth has its soul outside its body, as 
many a philosopher would have wished to have his. The 
winds that play about it are its breath, the water that 
rains down and rises again in mist is its circulating blood ; 
and the death of the earth will come when some day it 
sucks in the atmosphere and the sea, gets its soul inside 
its body again, turns its animating gases back into solids, 
and becomes altogether a skeleton of stone. 

No wonder that living creatures find things that are 
fluid and immersed in moisture friendly to the watery core 
of their own being. Seeds, blood, and tears are liquid ; 
nothing else is so poignant as what passes and flows, like 
music and love ; and if this irreparable fluidity is sad, 
anything stark and arrested is still sadder. Life is com 
pelled to flow, and things must either flow with it or, like 
Lot s wife, in the petrified gesture of refusal, remain to 
mock their own hope. 



IT would seem that when a heavenly body ceases to shine 
by its own light, it becomes capable of breeding eyes with 
which to profit by the light other bodies are shedding ; 
whereas, so long as it was itself on fire, no part of it could 
see. Is life a gift which cooling stars receive from those 
still incandescent, when some ray falls upon a moist spot, 
making it a focus of warmth and luminous energy, and 
reversing at that point the general refrigeration ? It is 
certain, at any rate, that if light did not pour down from 
the sun no earthly animal would have developed an eye. 
Yet there was another partner in this business of seeing, 
who would have flatly refused to undertake it, had the sole 
profit been the possibility of star-gazing. 

Star-gazing is an ulterior platonic homage which we pay 
to our celestial sources, as a sort of pious acknowledgment 
of their munificence in unconsciously begetting us. But 
this is an acknowledgment which they are far from demand 
ing or noticing, not being vain or anxious to be admired, 
like popular gods ; and if we omitted it, they would continue 
to perform their offices towards us with the same contemptu 
ous regularity. Star-gazing is, therefore, a pure waste of 
time in the estimation of the other partner in vision, besides 
celestial light I mean, that clod of moist earth which the 
light quickens, that plastic home-keeping parent of the 
mind, whom we might call old mother Psyche, and whose 
primary care is to keep the body in order and guide it 
prudently over the earth s surface. For such a purpose 
the direct rays of the sun are blinding, and those of the 
moon and stars fit only to breed lunatics. To mother 
Psyche it seems a blessing that the view of the infinite from 
the earth is so often intercepted ; else it might have sunk 
into her heart (for she has watched through many a night 
in her long vegetative career), and might have stretched 
her comfortable industrious sanity into a sort of divine 
madness or reason, very disconcerting in her business. 
Indeed, she would never have consented to look or to see 
at all, except for this circumstance, that the rays coming 



from heavenly bodies are reflected by earthly bodies upon 
one another ; so that by becoming sensitive to light the 
Psyche could receive a most useful warning of what to 
seek or to avoid. Instead of merely stretching or poking 
or sniffing through the world, she could now map it at a 
glance, and turn instinct into foresight. 

This was a great turn in her career, wonderful in its 
tragic possibilities, and something like falling in love ; for 
her new art brought her a new pleasure and a new unrest, 
purer and more continual than those drowsy and terrible 
ones which she knew before. Reflected light is beautiful. 
The direct downpour of light through space leaves space 
wonderfully dark, and it falls on the earth indiscriminately 
upon the wise and the foolish, to warm or to scorch them ; 
but the few rays caught by solid matter or drifting vapour 
become prismatic, soft, and infinitely varied ; not only 
reporting truly the position and material diversity of things, 
but adding to them an orchestration in design and colour 
bewitching to the senses. It was not the stars but the 
terrestrial atmosphere that the eyes of the flesh were made 
to see ; even mother Psyche can love the light, when it 
clothes or betrays something else that matters ; and the 
fleshly-spiritual Goethe said most truly : Am farbigen 
A bglanz haben wir das Leben. 


REPETITION is the only form of permanence that nature 
can achieve, and in those Mediterranean regions that 
nurtured the classic mind, by continually repeating the 
same definite scenes, nature forced it to fix its ideas. 
Every one learned to think that the earth and the gods 
were more permanent than himself ; he perused them, he 
returned to them, he studied them at arm s length, and 
he recognized their external divinity. But where the 
Atlantic mists envelop everything, though we must 
repeatedly use the same names for new-born things, as 
we continue to christen children John and Mary, yet we 
feel that the facts, like the persons, are never really alike ; 


everything is so fused, merged, and continuous, that what 
ever element we may choose to say is repeated seems but 
a mental abstraction and a creature of language. The 
weather has got into our bones ; there is a fog in the 
brain ; the limits of our own being become uncertain to us. 
Yet what is the harm, if only we move and change inwardly 
in harmony with the ambient flux ? Why this mania for 
naming and measuring and mastering what is carrying us 
so merrily along ? Why shouldn t the intellect be vague 
while the heart is comfortable ? 


THE heavens are the most constant thing we know, the 
skies the most inconstant. Even the Olympian expanse, 
when blue and cloudless, is an aspect of terrestrial atmo 
sphere in a holiday mood, a sort of gay parasol which the 
Earth holds up when she walks in the sun, and takes down 
again when she walks in the shadow ; while clouds are veils 
wrapped more closely about her, and even more friendly 
to her frailty. Nor are these feminine trappings less lovely 
for being easily blown about, and always fresh and in the 
latest fashion. It is a prejudice to suppose that instability 
must be sad or must be trivial. A new cloud castle is 
probably well worth an old one ; any one of them may 
equal in beauty the monotonous gold and black vault 
which it conceals from us, and all of them together certainly 
surpass that tragic decoration in spiritual suggestion. 
Something in us no doubt regrets that these airy visions 
vanish so quickly and are irrecoverable ; but this is a sort 
of fleshly sentimentality of ours and not reasonable. In 
nature, what disappears never narrows the range of what 
is yet to be. If we were immortally young, like the atmo 
sphere, the lapse of things would not grieve us, nor would 
inconstancy be a vice in ourselves. Nobody s future would 
be blighted by his past ; and this perhaps explains the 
morals of the gods. Change to us is an omen of death, and N 
only in the timeless can we feel secure ; but if we were safe 
in our plastic existence, like nature and the gods of nature, 


fidelity to a single love might seem foolish in us ; being 
and possessing any one thing would not then be incompatible 
with sooner or later being and possessing everything else. 
Nature and substance are like the absolute actor with an 
equal affinity for every part, and changing sex, age, and 
station with perfect good grace. 

A great principle of charity in morals is not to blame 
the fishes for their bad taste in liking to live under water. 
Yet many philosophers seem to have sinned against this 
reasonable law, since they have blamed life and nature for 
liking to change, which is as much as to say for liking to 
live. Certainly life and nature, when they produce thought, 
turn from themselves towards the eternal, but it is by a 
glance, itself momentary, that they turn to it ; for if they 
were themselves converted into something changeless, they 
could neither live, think, nor turn. In the realm of existence 
it is not sinful to be fugitive nor in bad taste to be new. 
Accordingly cloud castles have nothing to blush for ; if 
they have a weak hold on existence, so has everything 
good. We are warned that the day of judgement will be 
full of surprises : perhaps one of them may be that in 
heaven things are even more unstable than on earth, and 
that the mansions reserved for us there are not only many 
but insecure. Cloud castles are hints to us that eternity 
has nothing to do with duration, nor beauty with substantial 
existence, and that even in heaven our bliss would have 
to be founded on a smiling renunciation. Did Mohammed, 
I wonder, misunderstand the archangel Gabriel in gathering 
that celestial beauties (unlike the lights and voices of 
Dante s paradise) could be embraced as well as admired ? 
And in promising that our heavenly brides would daily 
recover their virginity, did he simply clothe in a congenial 
metaphor the fact that they would be different brides every 
day, and that if we wished to dwell in a true paradise, and 
not in a quarrelsome and sordid harem, we must never 
dream of seeing any of them a second time ? 

Fidelity is a virtue akin to habit and rooted in the 
inertia of animal life, which would run amok without trusty 
allies and familiar signals. We have an inveterate love of 
The Same, because our mortal condition obliges us to 
reconsider facts and to accumulate possessions ; by instinct 


both the heart and the intellect hug everything they touch, 
and to let anything go is a sort of death to them. This 
spirit of pathetic fidelity in us would certainly reproach 
those ethereal visions for being ephemeral, and Cupid for 
having wings and no heart ; but might not the visiting 
angels in turn reproach us for clownishness in wishing to 
detain them ? They are not made of flesh and blood ; 
they are not condemned to bear children. Their smile, 
their voice, and the joy they bring us are the only life 
they have. They are fertile only like the clouds, in that 
by dissolving they give place to some other form, no less 
lovely and elusive than themselves ; and perhaps if we 
took a long view we should not feel that our own passage 
through existence had a very different quality. We last 
as a strain of music lasts, and we go where it goes. Is it 
not enough that matter should illustrate each ideal possi 
bility only once and for a moment, and that Caesar or 
Shakespeare should figure once in this world ? To repeat 
them would not intensify their reality, while it would 
impoverish and make ridiculous the pageant of time, like 
a stage army running round behind the scenes in order to 
reappear. To come to an end is a virtue when one has had 
one s day, seeing that in the womb of the infinite there are 
always other essences no less deserving of existence. 

Even cloud castles, however, have a double lien on 
permanence. A flash of lightning is soon over, yet so 
long as the earth is wrapped in its present atmosphere, 
flashes will recur from time to time so very like this one 
that the mind will make the same comment upon them, 
and its pronouncements on its past experience will remain 
applicable to its experience to come. Fleeting things in 
this way, when they are repeated, survive and are united 
in the wisdom which they teach us in common. At the 
same time they inwardly contain something positively 
eternal, since the essences they manifest are immutable 
in character, and from their platonic heaven laugh at this 
inconstant world, into which they peep for a moment, 
when a chance collocation of atoms suggests one or another 
of them to our minds. To these essences mind is con 
stitutionally addressed, and into them it likes to sink in 
its self-forgetfulness. It is only our poor mother Psyche, 


being justly afraid of growing old, who must grudge the 
exchange of one vision for another. Material life is sluggish 
and conservative ; it would gladly drag the whole weary 
length of its past behind it, like a worm afraid of being 
cut in two in its crawling. It is haunted by a ghostly 
memory, a wonderful but not successful expedient for 
calling the dead to life, in order, somewhat inconsistently, 
to mourn over them and be comforted. Why not kiss our 
successive pleasures good-bye, simply and without marking 
our preferences, as we do our children when they file to 
bed ? A free mind does not measure the worth of anything 
by the worth of anything else. It is itself at least as 
plastic as nature and has nothing to fear from revolutions. 
To live in the moment would indeed be brutish and 
dangerous if we narrowed to a moment the time embraced 
in our field of view, since with the wider scope of thought 
come serenity and dominion ; but to live in the moment 
is the only possible life if we consider the spiritual activity 
itself. The most protracted life, in the actual living, can 
be nothing but a chain of moments, each the seat of its 
irrecoverable vision, each a dramatic perspective of the 
world, seen in the light of a particular passion at a 
particular juncture. But at each moment the wholeness 
of mind is spiritual and aesthetic, the wholeness of a 
meaning or a picture, and no knife can divide it. Its 
immortality, too, is timeless, like that of the truths and 
forms in which it is absorbed. Therefore apprehension 
can afford to hasten all the more trippingly in its career, 
touching the facts here and there for a moment, and 
building its cloud castles out of light and air, movement 
and irony, to let them lapse again without a pang. Con 
templation, when it frees itself from animal anxiety about 
existence, ceases to question and castigate its visions, as 
if they were mere signals of alarm or hints of hidden 
treasures ; and then it cannot help seeing what treasures 
these visions hold within themselves, each framing 
some luminous and divine essence, as a telescope frames 
a star ; and something of their inalienable distinction 
and firmness seems to linger in our minds, though in the 
exigencies of our hurried life we must turn away from each 
of them and forget them. 



THEY say the sun is a very small star, and the thing is 
plausible enough in itself, without the proofs which 
presumably the astronomers can give of it. That which 
nature produces she is apt to produce in crowds; what 
she does once, if she has her way, she will do often, with a 
persistency and monotony which would be intolerable to 
her if she were endowed with memory ; but hers is a life 
of habit and automatic repetition, varied only when there 
is some hitch in the clockwork, and she begins hurriedly 
beating a new tune. Accordingly, what any creature 
calls the present time, the living interest, the ruling power, 
or the true religion is almost always but as one leaf in a tree. 
The same plastic stress which created it creates a million 
comparable things around it. Yet it is easy for each to 
ignore its neighbours, and to be shocked at the notion of 
loving them as itself ; for they all have their separate 
places or seasons, and bloom on their several stems, so 
that an accident that overwhelms one of them may easily 
leave the others unscathed. But for all that, they are as 
multitudinous and similar as the waves of the sea. Take 
any star at random, like our sun, or any poet, or any idea, 
and whilst certainly it will be the nearest and warmest to 
somebody, it is not at all likely to be the greatest of its 
kind, or even very remarkable. 

Nevertheless, in a moral perspective, nearness makes 
all the difference ; and for us the sun is a veritable ruling 
deity and parent of light ; he is the centre and monarch 
of our home system. Similarly each living being is a sort 
of sun to itself ; this spark within me, by whose light I 
see at .all, is a great sun to me ; and considering how wide 
a berth other spiritual luminaries seem to give me, I must 
warm myself chiefly by my own combustion, and remain 
singularly important to myself. This importance belongs 
to the humour of material existence, visible when I look 
at my seamy side ; it vanishes in so far as my little light 
actually burns clear, and my intent flies with it to whatever 
objects its rays can reach, no matter how distant or alien. 


Yet this very intelligence and scope in me are functions 
of my inward fire : seeing, too, is burning. An atomic 
and spark-like form of existence, prevalent in nature, is 
absolutely essential to spirit ; and I find it very acceptable. 
It is a free, happy, and humble condition. I welcome the 
minute bulk, the negligible power, the chance quality and 
oddity of my being, combined as it is with vital in 
dependence and adequate fuel in my small bunkers for 
my brief voyage. On a vaster scale, I think the sun, for 
all his littleness, has a splendid prerogative, and I honour 
Phoebus as a happy god. The happiest part of his condition 
and his best claim to deity lie in this : that he can irradiate 
and kindle the frozen or vaporous bodies that swim about 
him ; he can create the moonlight and the earthlight, 
much more powerful than the moonlight. This earthlight, 
if we could only get far enough from the earth to see it, 
would seem strangely brilliant and beautiful ; it would 
show sea-tints and snow-tints and sand-tints ; there would 
be greens and purples in it reflected from summer and 
winter zones, dotted with cinder scars and smoke-wreaths 
of cities. Yet all these lights are only sunlight, received 
and returned with thanks. 

Nor is this surface shimmer, visible to telescopic 
observers, the only benefit gained : something is kept 
back and absorbed ; some warmth sinks into the sub 
stance of the earth and permeates its watery soil, initiating 
currents in the sea and air, and quickening many a nest 
of particles into magnetic and explosive and contagious 
motions. This life which arises in the earth is an obeisance 
to the sun. The flowers turn to the light and the eye 
follows it, animal bodies imbibe it, and send it forth again 
in glad looks and keen attention ; and when dreams and 
thoughts, even with the eyes shut, play within us like 
flamelets amongst the coals, it is still the light of the sun, 
strangely stored and transmuted, that shines in those 
visions. Certainly intelligence in its cognitive intent is 
radically immaterial, and nothing could be more hetero 
geneous from vibrations, attractions, or ethereal currents 
than the power to make assertions that shall be 
true or false, relevant or irrelevant to outlying things ; 
but this so spiritual power is profoundly natural ; it 


plainly exhibits an animal awaking to the presence of 
other bodies that actually surround him, resenting their 
cruelty or wanning to their conquest and absorption. 
Apart from its roots in animal predicaments, spirit would 
be wholly inexplicable in its moods and arbitrary in its 
deliverance. The more ecstatic or the more tragic 
experience is, the more unmistakably it is the voice of 
matter. It then obviously retraces and makes incan 
descent the silent relations of things with things, by which 
its weal or woe is decided. Sometimes it simply burns in 
their midst and moves in their company like the sun 
amongst the stars he ignores ; sometimes it gilds in its 
highly coloured lights the surface of things turned in its 
direction. Were not the distances between bodies spanned 
by some universal gravitation (which we are now told 
may be a sort of light), we may be sure that sense and 
fancy, which are profoundly vegetative things, would 
never leap from their source and discount their images 
in the heroic effort to understand the world. But the 
fire of life casts its passionate illumination on the dead 
things that control it, and raises to aesthetic actuality 
various poetic symbols of their power. Dead things possess, 
of course, in their own right, their material and logical 
being, but they borrow from the adventitious interest 
which a living creature must needs take in them their 
various moral dignities and all their part in the conscious 
world. It is intelligible that moralists and psychologists 
should be absorbed in those reflections of their attention 
which reach them from things distant or near, and that 
they should pronounce the whole universe to be nothing 
but their experience of it, a sort of rainbow or crescent 
kindly decorating their personal sky. On the same 
principle the sun (who, being a material creature, would 
also be subject to egotism) might say that the only substance 
in the universe was light, and that the earth and moon 
were nothing but ethereal mirrors palely reflecting his own 
fire. It would seem absurd to him that the earth or its 
inhabitants should profess to have any bowels. Inextin 
guishable laughter and self-assurance would seize him at 
the report that any dark places existed, or any invisible 
thoughts. He would never admit that, in all this, he was 


himself thinking ; what we should call his thoughts he 
would maintain (without thinking !) were evident meteors 
moving and shining on their own account. 

Such are the cross-lights of animal persuasion. Things, 
when seen, seem to come and go with our visions ; and 
visions, when we do not know why they visit us, seem to 
be things. But this is not the end of the story. Opacity 
is a great discoverer. It teaches the souls of animals the 
existence of what is not themselves. Their souls in fact 
live and spread their roots in the darkness, which em 
bosoms and creates the light, though the light does not 
comprehend it. If sensuous evidence flooded the whole 
sphere with which souls are conversant, they would have 
no reason for suspecting that there was anything they did 
not see, and they would live in a fool s paradise of lucidity. 
Fortunately for their wisdom, if not for their comfort, 
they come upon mysteries and surprises, earthquakes and 
rumblings in their hidden selves and in their undeciphered 
environment ; they live in time, which is a double abyss 
of darkness ; and the primary and urgent object of their 
curiosity is that unfathomable engine of nature which 
from its ambush governs their fortunes. The proud, who 
shine by their own light, do not perceive matter, the fuel 
that feeds and will some day fail them ; but the knowledge 
of it comes to extinct stars in their borrowed light and 
almost mortal coldness, because they need to warm them 
selves at a distant fire and to adapt their seasons to its 
favourable shining. When we are on the shady side of 
the earth we can, as a compensation, range in knowledge 
far beyond our painted atmosphere, and far beyond that 
little sun who, so long as he shone upon us, seemed to ride 
at the top of heaven ; we can perceive a galaxy of other 
lights, no less original than he, to which his glory blinded 
us; we can even discover how he himself, if his hot 
head of burning hair would only suffer him to notice it, 
lives subject to their perpetual influence. Beautiful and 
happy god as Phoebus may be, he is not a just god nor an 
everlasting one. He is a lyric singer ; he is not responsible 
save to his own heart, and not obliged to know other 
things. He lives in the eternal, and does not need to be 
perpetual. And he is often beneficent in his spontaneity, 


and many of us have cause to thank and to love him. 
There is an uncovenanted society of spirits, like that of the 
morning stars singing together, or of all the larks at once 
in the sky ; it is a happy accident of freedom and a con 
spiracy of solitudes. When people talk together, they are 
at once entangled in a mesh of instrumentalities, irrelevance, 
misunderstanding, vanity, and propaganda ; and all to no 
purpose, for why should creatures become alike who are 
different ? But when minds, being naturally akin and 
each alone in its own heaven, soliloquize in harmony, saying 
compatible things only because their hearts are similar, 
then society is friendship in the spirit ; and the unison of 
many thoughts twinkles happily in the night across the 
void of separation. 



To be born is painful, and the profit of it so uncertain 
that we need not wonder if sometimes the mind as well 
as the body seems to hold back?) The winds of February 
are not colder to a featherless chick than are the surprises 
which nature and truth bring to our dreaming egotism. 
It was warm and safe in the egg; exciting enough, too, 
to feel a new organ throbbing here or a fresh limb growing 
out there. No suspicion visited the happy creature that 
these budding domestic functions were but preparations 
for foreign wars and omens of a disastrous death, to over 
take it sooner or later in a barbarous, militant, incompre 
hensible world. Of death, and even of birth (its ominous 
counterpart) the embryo had no idea. It believed simply 
in the tight spherical universe which it knew, and was 
confident of living in it for ever. It would have thought 
heaven had fallen if its shell had cracked. How should 
life be possible in a world of uncertain dimensions, where 
incalculable blows might fall upon us at any time from 
any quarter ? What a wild philosophy, to invent objects 
and dangers of which there was absolutely no experience ! 
And yet for us now, accustomed to the buffets and ambi 
tions of life in the open, that pre-natal vegetative dream 


seems worthless and contemptible, and hardly deserving 
the name of existence. 

Could we have debated Hamlet s question before we 
were conceived, the answer might well have been doubt 
ful ; or rather reason, not serving any prior instinct, could 
have expressed no preference and must have left the 
decision to chance. Birth and death are the right moments 
for absolute courage. But when once the die is cast and 
we exist, so that Hamlet s question can be put to us, the 
answer is already given ; nature in forming us has com 
pelled us to prejudge the case. She has decreed that all 
the beasts and many a man should propagate without 
knowing what they are about ; and the infant soul for its 
part, when once begotten, is constitutionally bent on 
working out its powers and daring the adventure of life. 
To have made the great refusal at the beginning, for fear 
of what shocks and hardships might come, seems to us, 
now that we are launched, morose and cowardly. Our 
soul, with its fluttering hopes and alarmed curiosity, is 
made to flee from death, and seems to think, if we judge 
by its action, that to miss experience altogether is worse and 
sadder than any life, however troubled or short. If nature 
has fooled us in this, she doubtless saw no harm in doing 
so, and thought it quite compatible with heartily loving 
us in her rough way. She merely yielded to a tendency 
to tease which is strangely prevalent among nurses. With 
a sort of tyrannical fondness, to make us show our paces, 
she dangled this exciting and unsatisfactory bauble of life 
before us for a moment, only to laugh at us, and kiss us, 
and presently lay our head again on her appeasing breast. 

The fear which children feel at being left in the dark 
or alone or among strangers goes somewhat beyond what 
a useful instinct would require ; for they are likely to be 
still pretty well embosomed and protected, not to say 
smothered. It is as if the happy inmate of some model 
gaol took alarm at the opening of his cell door, thinking 
he was to be driven out and forced to take his chances 
again in this rough wide world, when, in fact, all was well 
and he was only being invited to walk in the prison garden. 
Just so when the young mind hears the perilous summons 
to think, it is usually a false alarm. In its philosophical 


excursions it is likely to remain well blanketed from the 
truth and comfortably muffled in its own atmosphere. 
Groping and empirical in its habits, it will continue in the 
path it happens to have turned into ; for in a fog how should 
it otherwise choose its direction ? Its natural preference 
is to be guided by touch and smell, but it sometimes finds 
it convenient to use its eyes and ears as a substitute. So 
long as the reference to the vegetative soul and its comforts 
remains dominant, this substitution is harmless. Sights 
and sounds will then be but flowers in the prisoner s garden, 
and intelligence a maze through which at best he will find 
his way home again. Some danger there always is, even 
in such an outing ; for this walled garden has gates into 
the fields, which by chance may be left open. Sight and 
sound, in their useful ministrations, may create a new 
interest, and run into sheer music and star-gazing. The 
life the senses were meant to serve will then be forgotten ; 
the psychic atmosphere which of course is indispensable 
will be pierced, discounted, and used as a pleasant vehicle 
to things and to truths ; and the motherly soul, having 
unintentionally given birth to the intellect, will grumble 
at her runaway and thankless child. As for the truant 
himself, Hamlet s question will lapse from his view 
altogether, not because nature has answered it for him 
beforehand, but because his own disinterestedness and 
rapture have robbed it of all urgency. Intellect is 
passionate, and natural, and human enough, as singing 
is ; it is all the purer and keener for having emancipated 
itself, like singing, from its uses, if it ever had any, and 
having become a delight in itself. But it is not concerned 
with its own organs or their longevity; it cannot under 
stand why its mother, the earthly soul, thinks all the good 
and evil things that happen in this world are of no conse 
quence, if they do not happen to her. 


WHAT is it that governs the Englishman ? Certainly not 
intelligence ; seldom passion ; hardly self-interest, since 


what we call self-interest is nothing but some dull passion 
served by a brisk intelligence. The Englishman s heart 
is perhaps capricious or silent ; it is seldom designing or 
mean. There are nations where people are always inno 
cently explaining how they have been lying and cheating 
in small matters, to get out of some predicament, or secure 
some advantage ; that seems to them a part of the art 
of living. Such is not the Englishman s way : it is easier 
for him to face or to break opposition than to circumvent 
it. If we tried to say that what governs him is convention, 
we should have to ask ourselves how it comes about that 
England is the paradise of individuality, eccentricity, 
heresy, anomalies, hobbies, and humours. Nowhere do 
we come oftener upon those two social abortions the 
affected and the disaffected. Where else would a man 
inform you, with a sort of proud challenge, that he lived 
on nuts, or was in correspondence through a medium with 
Sir Joshua Reynolds, or had been disgustingly housed when 
last in prison ? Where else would a young woman, in 
dress and manners the close copy of a man, tell you that 
her parents were odious, and that she desired a husband 
but no children, or children without a husband ? It is 
true that these novelties soon become the conventions 
of some narrower circle, or may even have been adopted 
en bloc in emotional desperation, as when people are 
converted ; and the oddest sects demand the strictest 
self-surrender. Nevertheless, when people are dissident 
and supercilious by temperament, they manage to wear 
their uniforms with a difference, turning them by some 
lordly adaptation into a part of their own person. 

Let me come to the point boldly ; what governs the 
Englishman is his inner atmosphere, the weather in his 
soul. It is nothing particularly spiritual or mysterious. 
When he has taken his exercise and is drinking his tea or 
his beer and lighting his pipe ; when, in his garden or by 
his fire, he sprawls in an aggressively comfortable chair ; 
when, well-washed and well-brushed, he resolutely turns 
in church to the east and recites the Creed (with genu 
flexions, if he likes genuflexions) without in the least 
implying that he believes one word of it ; when he hears 
or sings the most crudely sentimental and thinnest of 


popular songs, unmoved but not disgusted ; when he makes 
up his mind who is his best friend or his favourite poet 
when he adopts a party or a sweetheart ; when he is 
hunting or shooting or boating, or striding through the 
fields ; when he is choosing his clothes or his profession 
never is it a precise reason, or purpose, or outer fact that 
determines him ; it is always the atmosphere of his inner 

To say that this atmosphere was simply a sense of 
physical well-being, of coursing blood and a prosperous 
digestion, would be far too gross ; for while psychic 
weather is all that, it is also a witness to some settled 
disposition, some ripening inclination for this or that, 
deeply rooted in the soul. It gives a sense of direction 
in life which is virtually a code of ethics, and a religion 
behind religion. On the other hand, to say it was the 
vision of any ideal or allegiance to any principle would 
be making it far too articulate and abstract. The inner 
atmosphere, when compelled to condense into words, 
may precipitate some curt maxim or over-simple theory 
as a sort of war-cry ; but its puerile language does it in 
justice, because it broods at a much deeper level than 
language or even thought. It is a mass of dumb instincts 
and allegiances, the love of a certain quality of life, to 
be maintained manfully. It is pregnant with many a 
stubborn assertion and rejection. It fights under its 
trivial fluttering opinions like a smoking battleship under 
its flags and signals ; you must consider, not what they 
are, but why they have been hoisted and will not be 
lowered. One is tempted at times to turn away in despair 
from the most delightful acquaintance the picture of 
manliness, grace, simplicity, and honour, apparently rich 
in knowledge and humour because of some enormous 
platitude he reverts to, some hopelessly stupid little dogma 
from which one knows that nothing can ever liberate 
him. The reformer must give him up ; but why 
should one wish to reform a person so much better than 
oneself ? He is like a thoroughbred horse, satisfying to 
the trained eye, docile to the light touch, and coursing in 
most wonderful unison with you through the open world. 
What do you care what words he uses ? Are you impatient 


with the lark because he sings rather than talks ? and if he 
could talk, would you be irritated by his curious opinions ? 
Of course, if any one positively asserts what is contrary 
to fact, there is an error, though the error may be harm 
less ; and most divergencies between men should interest 
us rather than offend us, because they are effects of per 
spective, or of legitimate diversity in experience and 
interests. Trust the man who hesitates in his speech and 
is quick and steady in action, but beware of long arguments 
and long beards. Jupiter decided the most intricate 
questions with a nod, and a very few words and no gestures 
suffice for the Englishman to make his inner mind felt 
most unequivocably when occasion requires. 

Instinctively the Englishman is no missionary, no 
conqueror. He prefers the country to the town, and 
home to foreign parts. He is rather glad and relieved if 
only natives will remain natives and strangers strangers, 
and at a comfortable distance from himself. Yet outwardly 
he is most hospitable and accepts almost anj/body for the 
time being ; he travels and conquers without a settled 
design, because he has the instinct of exploration. His 
adventures are all external ; they change him so little 
that he is not afraid of them. He carries his English 
weather in his heart wherever he goes, and it becomes a 
cool spot in the desert, and a steady and sane oracle 
amongst all the deliriums of mankind. Never since the 
heroic days of Greece has the world had such a sweet, 
just, boyish master. It will be a black day for the human 
race when scientific blackguards, conspirators, churls, and 
fanatics manage to supplant him. 


ALL peoples that dwell by the sea sometimes venture out 
upon it. The boys are eager to swim and sail, and the 
men may be turned into habitual navigators by the spirit 
of enterprise or by necessity. But some races take to the 
water more kindly than others, either because they love 


the waves more or the furrow less. We may imagine that 
sheer distress drove the Norse fishermen and pirates into 
their open boats. The ocean they explored was rough 
and desolate ; the fish and the pillaged foreigner had to 
compensate them for their privations. They quitted their 
fiords and brackish islands dreaming of happier lands. 
But with the Greeks and the English the case was some 
what different. There are no happier lands than theirs ; 
and they set forth for the most part on summer seas, 
towards wilder and less populous regions. They went 
armed, of course, and ready to give battle : they had no 
scruples about carrying home anything they might purloin 
or obtain by enormously advantageous barter, but they 
were not in quest of softer climes or foreign models ; their 
home remained their ideal. They were scarcely willing to 
settle in foreign parts unless they could live their home 
life there. 

This love of home merged in their minds with the love 
of liberty ; it was a loyalty inwardly grounded and not a 
mere tribute to habit or external influences. They could 
consequently retain their manners wherever they went, 
and could found free colonies, almost as Greek or as English 
as the mother country ; for it was not Greece that originally 
formed the Greeks nor England the English, but the other 
way round ; the Greeks and the English, wherever they 
might be, spun their institutions about them like a cocoon. 
Certainly the geographical environment was favourable ; 
the skies and waters that embosomed them when in their 
migrations they had reached those climes simply met 
their native genius half-way and allowed it to bloom as it 
had not elsewhere. But the winds could carry that same 
seed to fructify in other soils ; and as there were many 
Greek cities sprung from one, so there are several local 
Englands in Great Britain, and others all over the world. 
Even people who are not heirs of these nations according 
to the flesh may assimilate their spirit in some measure. 
All men are Greek in the best sense in so far as they are 
rational, and live and think on the human scale ; and all 
are English in so far as their souls are individual, each the 
imperturbably dominant cell in its own organism, each 
faithful to its inner oracle. 


Life at sea is very favourable to this empire of personal 
liberty. The inner man, the hereditary Psyche that breeds 
the body and its discursive thoughts, craves to exercise 
ascendancy ; it is essentially a formative principle, an 
organ of government. Mere solitude and monastic reverie, 
such as a hermit or satirist may enjoy even in great cities, 
weary and oppress the Englishman. He wants to do some 
thing or else to play at something. His thoughts are not 
vivid and substantial enough for company ; his passions 
are too nebulous to define their innate objects, until 
accident offers something that perhaps may serve. At sea 
there is always something doing : you must mind the helm, 
the sails, or the engines ; you must keep things ship-shape ; 
brasses must be always bright and eyes sharp ; decorum is 
essential, since discipline is so ; you may even dress for 
dinner and read prayers on Sunday. This routine does not 
trespass on the liberty and reserve of your inner man. 
You can exchange a few hearty commonplaces with the 
other officers and sailors, or even with a casual passenger ; 
now and then you may indulge in a long talk, pacing the 
deck beneath the stars. There is space, there is the constant 
shadow of danger, the chance of some adventure at sea or 
on a strange shore. There is a continual test and tension 
of character. There are degrees of authority and of 
competence, but the sailor s art is finite ; his ship, however 
complicated and delicate a creature, has a known structure 
and known organs ; she will not do anything without a 
reason ; she is not too wayward (as is the course of things 
on terra firma) for a clear-headed man to understand nor 
for a firm hand to steer. Maritime fortune in its uncertainty 
has after all not many forms of caprice ; its worst tricks 
are familiar ; your life-belt is hanging over your bunk, and 
you are ready. 

Every one grumbles at his lot and at his profession ; but 
what is man that he should ask for more ? These buffeting 
winds, these long hours of deep breathing, these habits of 
quick decision and sharp movement whet your appetite ; 
you relish your solid plain food, whilst your accustomed 
drink smooths over the petty worries of the day, and 
liberates your private musings ; and what a companionable 
thing your pipe is ! The women dear, dogmatic, fussy 


angels are not here ; that is a relief ; and yet you are 
counting the weeks before you can return to them at home. 
And all those tender episodes of a more fugitive sort, how 
merrily you think them over now ! more merrily perhaps 
than you enacted them, since you need not call to mind 
the little shabby accompaniments and false notes that may 
have marred them in reality. Your remoter future, too, 
is smiling enough for an honest man who believes in God 
and is not a snob in the things of the spirit. You see in 
your mind s eye a cottage on some sunny hillside over 
looking the sea ; near it, from a signal-post that is a ship s 
mast, the flags are flapping in the breeze ; your children 
are playing on the beach except the eldest, perhaps, 
already a sailor. There is a blessed simplicity about the 
sea, with its vast inhumanity islanding and freeing the 
humanity of man. 


THE secret of English mastery is self-mastery. The English 
man establishes a sort of satisfaction and equilibrium in his 
inner man, and from that citadel of lightness he easily 
measures the value of everything that comes within his 
moral horizon. In what may lie beyond he takes but a 
feeble interest. Enterprising enough when in a roving 
mood, and fond of collecting outlandish objects and ideas, 
he seldom allows his wanderings and discoveries to unhinge 
his home loyalties or ruffle his self - possession ; and he 
remains, after all his adventures, intellectually as indolent 
and secure as in the beginning. As to speculative truth, 
he instinctively halts short of it, as it looms in the distance 
and threatens to cast a contemptuous and chilling shadow 
across his life. He would be very severe to a boy who 
dreaded cold water and wouldn t learn to swim ; yet in 
the moral world he is himself subject to illusions of timidity. 
He does not believe, there, in the overwhelming rewards of 
courage. His chosen life is indeed beautiful as the shy 
boy s might be in its fmitude ; all the more beautiful and 
worth preserving because, like his country, it is an island 


in the sea. His domestic thermometer and barometer have 
sufficed to guide him to the right hygiene. 

Hygiene does not require telescopes nor microscopes. It 
is not concerned, like medicine or psychology, with the 
profound hidden workings of our bodies or minds, com 
plexities hardly less foreign to our discoursing selves than 
are the mysteries of the great outer world. Hygiene regards 
only the right regimen of man in his obvious environment, 
judged by his conscious well-being. If it goes afield at all, 
it does so in the interests of privacy. All it asks of life is 
that it should be comely, spontaneous, and unimpeded : 
all it asks of the earth is that it should be fit for sport and 
for habitation. Men, to be of the right hygienic sort, must 
love the earth, and must know how to range in it. This 
the Englishman knows ; and just as, in spite of his 
insularity, he loves this whole terraqueous globe simply 
and genuinely, so the earth, turned into mud by the vain 
stampings of so many garrulous and sickly nations, would 
doubtless say : Let the Englishman inhabit me, and I 
shall be green again. 

In matters of hygiene the Englishman s maxims are 
definite and his practice refined. He has discovered what 
he calls good form, and is obstinately conservative about 
it, not from inertia, but in the interests of pure vitality. 
Experience has taught him the uses to which vitality can 
be put, so as to preserve and refresh it. He knows the 
right degree of exertion normally required to do things 
well to walk or to talk, for instance ; he does not saunter 
nor scramble, he does not gesticulate nor scream. In 
consequence, perhaps, on extraordinary occasions he fails 
at first to exert himself enough ; and his eloquence is not 
torrential nor inspired, even at those rare moments when 
it ought to be so. But when nothing presses, he shows 
abundant energy, without flurry or excess. In manners 
and morals, too, he has found the right mean between 
anarchy and servitude, and the wholesome measure of 
comfort. What those who dislike him call his hypocrisy is 
but timeliness in his instincts, and a certain modesty on 
their part in not intruding upon one another. Your 
prayers are not necessarily insincere because you pray only 
in church ; you are not concealing a passion if for a time 


you forget it and slough it off. These alternations are 
phases of the inner man, not masks put on in turn by 
some insidious and calculating knave. All the English 
man s attitudes and habits his out-of-door life, his clubs, 
his conventicles, his business when they are spontaneous 
and truly British, are for the sake of his inner man in its 
privacy. Other people, unless the game calls for them, 
are in the way, and uninteresting. His spirit is like Words 
worth s skylark, true to the kindred points of heaven and 
home ; and perhaps these points seem to him kindred only 
because they are both functions of himself. Home is the 
centre of his physical and moral comfort, his headquarters 
in the war of life, where lie his spiritual stores. Heaven 
is a realm of friendly inspiring breezes and setting suns, 
enveloping his rambles and his perplexities. The world 
to him is a theatre for the soliloquy of action. There is a 
comfortable luxuriousness in all his attitudes. He thinks 
the prize of life worth winning, but not worth snatching. 
If you snatch it, as Germans, Jews, and Americans seem 
inclined to do, you abdicate the sovereignty of your inner 
man, you miss delight, dignity, and peace ; and in that 
case the prize of life has escaped you. 

As the Englishman disdains to peer and is slow to 
speculate, so he resents any meddling or intrusion into his 
own preserves. How sedulously he plants out his garden, 
however tiny, from his neighbours and from the public 
road ! If his windows look unmistakably on the street, 
at least he fills his window-boxes with the semblance of a 
hedge or a garden, and scarcely allows the dubious light to 
filter through his blinds and lace curtains ; and the space 
between them, in the most dingy tenement, is blocked by 
an artificial plant. He is quite willing not to be able to 
look out, if only he can prevent other people from looking 
in. If they did, what would they see ? Nothing shocking, 
surely ; his attitude by his fireside is perfectly seemly. 
He is not throwing anything at the family ; very likely 
they are not at home. Nor has he introduced any low-class 
person by the tradesman s entrance, in whose company he 
might blush to be spied. He is not in deshabille ; if he has 
changed any part of his street clothes it has not been from 
any inclination to be slovenly in private, but on the contrary 


to vindicate his self-respect and domestic decorum. He 
does not dress to be seen of men, but of God. His elegance 
is an expression of comfort, and his comfort a consciousness 
of elegance. The eyes of men disquiet him, eminently 
presentable though he be, and he thinks it rude of them to 
stare, even in simple admiration. It takes tact and patience 
in strangers perhaps at first an ostentatious indifference 
to reassure him and persuade him that he would be safe 
in liking them. His frigid exterior is often a cuticle to 
protect his natural tenderness, which he forces himself not 
to express, lest it should seem misplaced or clumsy. There 
is a masculine sort of tenderness which is not fondness, but 
craving and premonition of things untried ; and the young 
Englishman is full of it. His heart is quiet and full ; he 
has not pumped it dry, like ill-bred children, in tantrums 
and effusive fancies. On the other hand, passions are 
atrophied if their expression is long suppressed, and we 
soon have nothing to say if we never say anything. As he 
grows old the Englishman may come to suspect, not without 
reason, that he might not reward too close a perusal. His 
social bristles will then protect his intellectual weakness, 
and he will puff himself out to disguise his vacuity. 

It is intelligible that a man of deep but inarticulate 
character should feel more at ease in the fields and woods, 
at sea or in remote enterprises, than in the press of men. 
In the world he is obliged to maintain stiffly principles 
which he would prefer should be taken for granted. There 
fore when he sits in silence behind his window curtains, 
with his newspaper, his wife, or his dog, his monumental 
passivity is not a real indolence. He is busily reinforcing 
his character, ruffled by the day s contact with hostile or 
indifferent things, and he is gathering new strength for the 
fray. After the concessions imposed upon him by necessity 
or courtesy, he is recovering his natural tone. To-morrow 
he will issue forth fresh and confident, and exactly the 
same as he was yesterday. His character is like his 
climate, gentle and passing readily from dull to glorious, 
and back again ; variable on the surface, yet perpetually 
self -restored and invincibly the same. 




EVERY one can see why the Lion should be a symbol for 
the British nation. This noble animal loves dignified 
repose. He haunts by preference solitary glades and 
pastoral landscapes. His movements are slow, he yawns 
a good deal ; he has small squinting eyes high up in his 
head, a long displeased nose, and a prodigious maw. He 
apparently has some difficulty in making things out at a 
distance, as if he had forgotten his spectacles (for he is 
getting to be an elderly lion now), but he snaps at the 
flies when they bother him too much. On the whole, he 
is a tame lion ; he has a cage called the Constitution, and a 
whole parliament of keepers with high wages and a cockney 
accent ; and he submits to all the rules they make for him, 
growling only when he is short of raw beef. The younger 
members of the nobility and gentry may ride on his back, 
and he obligingly lets his tail hang out of the bars, so that 
the little Americans and the little Irishmen and the little 
Bolshevists, when they come to jeer at him, may twist it. 
Yet when the old fellow goes for a walk, how all the 
domestic and foreign poultry scamper ! They know he 
can spring ; his strength when aroused proves altogether 
surprising and unaccountable, he never seems to mind a 
blow, and his courage is terrible. The cattle, seeing there 
is no safety in flight, herd together when he appears on the 
horizon, and try to look unconscious ; the hyenas go to 
snarl at a distance ; the eagles and the serpents aver 
afterwards that they were asleep. Even the insects that 
buzz about his ears, and the very vermin in his skin, 
know him for the king of beasts. 

But why should the other supporter of the British 
arms be the Unicorn ? What are the mystic implica 
tions of having a single horn ? This can hardly be the 
monster spoken of in Scripture, into the reason for whose 
existence, whether he be the rhinoceros of natural history 
or a slip of an inspired pen, it would be blasphemy to 
inquire. This Unicorn is a creature of mediaeval fancy, 
a horse rampant argent, only with something queer about 


his head, as if a croquet-stake had been driven into it, or 
he wore a very high and attenuated fool s cap. It would 
be far-fetched to see in this ornament any allusion to 
deceived husbands, as if in England the alleged injury 
never seemed worth two horns, or divorce and damages 
soon removed one of them. More plausible is the view 
that, as the Lion obviously expresses the British char 
acter, so the Unicorn somewhat more subtly expresses the 
British intellect. Whereas most truths have two faces, 
and at least half of any solid fact escapes any single view 
of it, the English mind is monocular ; the odd and the 
singular have a special charm for it. This love of the 
particular and the original leads the Englishman far 
afield in the search for it ; he collects curios, and taking 
all the nation together, there is perhaps nothing that 
some Englishman has not seen, thought, or known ; but 
who sees things as a whole, or anything in its right place ? 
He inevitably rides some hobby. He travels through the 
wide world with one eye shut, hops all over it on one leg, 
and plays all his scales with one ringer. There is fervour, 
there is accuracy, there is kindness in his gaze, but there 
is no comprehension. He will defend the silliest opinion 
with a mint of learning, and espouse the worst of causes 
on the highest principles. It is notorious elsewhere that 
the world is round, that nature has bulk, and three if not 
four dimensions ; it is a truism that things cannot be 
seen as a whole except in imagination. But imagination, 
if he has it, the Englishman is too scrupulous to trust ; 
he observes the shapes and the colours of things intently, 
and behold, they are quite flat, and he challenges you to 
show why, when every visible part of everything is flat, 
anything should be supposed to be round. He is a keen re 
former, and certainly the world would be much simpler, right 
opinion would be much righter and wrong opinion much 
wronger, if things had no third and no fourth dimension. 

Ah, why did those early phrenologists, true and typical 
Englishmen as they were, denounce the innocent midwife 
who by a little timely pressure on the infant skull com 
pressed, as they said, " the oval of genius into the flatness 
of boobyism " ? Let us not be cowed by a malicious 
epithet. What some people choose to call boobyism and 


flatness may be the simplest, the most British, the most 
scientific philosophy. Your true booby may be only he 
who, having perforce but a flat view of a flat world, prates 
of genius and rotundity. Blessed are they whose eye is 
single. Only when very drunk do we acknowledge our 
double optics ; when sober we endeavour to correct and 
ignore this visual duplicity and to see as respectably as if 
we had only one eye. The Unicorn might well say the 
same thing of two -horned beasts. Such double and 
crooked weapons are wasteful and absurd. You can use 
only one horn effectively even if you have two, but in a 
sidelong and cross-eyed fashion ; else your prey simply 
nestles between, where eye cannot see it nor horn probe it. 
A single straight horn, on the contrary, is like a lancet ; 
it pierces to the heart of the enemy by a sure frontal 
attack : nothing like it for pricking a bubble, or pointing 
to a fact and scathingly asking the Government if they are 
aware of it. In music likewise every pure melody passes 
from single note to note, as do the sweet songs of nature. 
Away with your demoniac orchestras, and your mad 
pianist, tossing his mane, and banging with his ten fingers 
and his two feet at once ! As to walking on two feet, 
that also is mere wobbling and, as Schopenhauer observed, 
a fall perpetually arrested. It is an unstable compromise 
between going on all fours, if you want to be safe, and 
standing on one leg, like the exquisite flamingo, if you 
aspire to be graceful and spiritually sensitive. There is 
really no biped in nature except ridiculous man, as if the 
prancing Unicorn had succeeded in always being rampant ; 
your feathered creatures are bipeds only on occasion 
and in their off moments ; essentially they are winged 
beings, and their legs serve only to prop them when at 
rest, like the foot-piece of a motor-cycle which you let 
down when it stops. 

The Lion is an actual beast, the Unicorn a chimera ; 
and is not England in fact always buoyed up on one 
side by some chimera, as on the other by a sense for fact ? 
Illusions are mighty, and must be reckoned with in this 
world ; but it is not necessary to share them or even 
to understand them from within, because being illusions 
they do not prophesy the probable consequences of their 


existence ; they are irrelevant in aspect to what they in 
volve in effect. The dove of peace brings new wars, the 
religion of love instigates crusades and lights faggots, 
metaphysical idealism in practice is the worship of 
Mammon, government by the people establishes the boss, 
free trade creates monopolies, fondness smothers its pet, 
assurance precipitates disaster, fury ends in smoke and in 
shaking hands. The shaggy Lion is dimly aware of all 
this ; he is ponderous and taciturn by an instinctive 
philosophy. Why should he be troubled about the dreams 
of the Unicorn, more than about those of the nightingale 
or the spider ? He can roughly discount these creatures 
habits, in so far as they touch him at all, without decipher 
ing their fantastic minds. That makes the strength of 
England in the world, the leonine fortitude that helps her, 
through a thousand stupidities and blunders, always to 
pull through. But England is also, more than any other 
country, the land of poetry and of the inner man. Her 
sunlight and mists, her fields, cliffs, and moors are full of 
aerial enchantment ; it is a land of tenderness and dreams. 
The whole nation hugs its hallowed shams ; there is a 
real happiness, a sense of safety, in agreeing not to acknow 
ledge the obvious ; there is a universal conspiracy of respect 
for the non-existent. English religion, English philosophy, 
English law, English domesticity could not get on without 
this " tendency to feign." And see how admissible, how 
almost natural this chimera is. A milk-white pony, 
elegantly Arabian, with a mane like sea-foam, and a tail 
like a little silvery comet, sensitive nostrils, eyes alight 
with recognition, a steed such as Phoebus might well water 
at those springs that lie in the chalices of flowers, a symbol 
at once of impetuosity and obedience, a heraldic image 
for the daintiness of Ariel and the purity of Galahad. 
If somehow we suspect that the poetical creature is light- 
witted, the stern Lion opposite finds him nevertheless a 
sprightly and tender companion, as King Lear did his 
exquisite Fool. Such a Pegasus cannot be a normal 
horse ; he was hatched in a cloud, and at his birth some 
inexorable ironic deity drove a croquet - stake into his 
pate, and set an attenuated crown, very like a fool s cap, 
between his startled ears. 

DONS 43 


DONS are picturesque figures. Their fussy ways and their 
oddities, personal and intellectual, are as becoming to them 
as black feathers to the blackbird. Their minds are all 
gaunt pinnacles, closed gates, and little hidden gardens. 
A mediaeval tradition survives in their notion of learning 
and in their manner of life ; they are monks flown from the 
dovecot, scholastics carrying their punctilious habits into 
the family circle. In the grander ones there may be 
some assimilation to a prelate, a country gentleman, or a 
party leader ; but the rank and file are modest, industrious 
pedagogues, sticklers for routine, with a squinting know 
ledge of old books and of young men. Their politics are 
narrow and their religion dubious. There was always 
something slippery in the orthodoxy of scholastics, even 
in the Middle Ages ; they are so eager to define, to correct, 
and to trace back everything, that they tend to cut the 
cloth on their own bias, and to make some crotchet of theirs 
the fulcrum of the universe. The thoughts of these men 
are like the Sibylline leaves, profound but lost. I should 
not call them pedants, because what they pursue and insist 
on in little things is the shadow of something great ; trifles, 
as Michael Angelo said, make perfection, and perfection 
is no trifle. Yet dry learning and much chewing of the 
cud take the place amongst them of the two ways men have 
of really understanding the world science, which explores 
it, and sound wit, which estimates humanly the value of 
science and of everything else. 

The function of dons is to expound a few classic docu 
ments, and to hand down as large and as pleasant a store 
as possible of academic habits, maxims, and anecdotes. 
They peruse with distrust the new books published on the 
subject of their teaching ; they refer to them sometimes 
sarcastically, but their teaching remains the same. Their 
conversation with outsiders is painfully amiable for a 
while ; lassitude soon puts the damper on it, unless they 
can lapse into the academic question of the day, or take 
up the circle of their good old stories. Their originality 


runs to interpreting some old text afresh, wearing some 
odd garment, or frequenting in the holidays some un 
frequented spot. When they are bachelors, as properly 
they should be, their pupils are their chief link with the 
world of affection, with mischievous and merry things ; 
and in exchange for this whiff of life, which they receive 
with each yearly invasion of flowering youth, like the fresh 
scent of hay every summer from the meadows, they furnish 
those empty minds with some humorous memories, and 
some shreds of knowledge. It does not matter very much 
whether what a don says is right or wrong, provided it 
is quotable ; nobody considers his opinions for the matter 
they convey ; the point is that by hearing them the pupils 
and the public may discover what opinions, and on what 
subjects, it is possible for mortals to devise. Their maxims 
are like those of the early Greek philosophers, a proper 
introduction to the good society of the intellectual world. 
So are the general systems to which the dons may be 
addicted, probably some revision of Christian theology, 
of Platonic mysticism, or of German philosophy. Such 
foreign doctrines do very well for the dons of successive 
epochs, native British philosophy not being fitted to edify 
the minds of the young : those vaster constructions appeal 
more to the imagination, and their very artificiality and 
ticklish architecture, like that of a house of cards, are part 
of their function, calling for paradoxical faith and what 
youth loves quite as much for captious and sophistical 
argument. They lie in the fourth dimension of human 
belief, amongst the epicycles which ingenious error 
describes about the unknown orbit of truth ; for the 
truth is not itself luminous, as wit is ; the truth travels 
silently in the night and requires to be caught by the 
searchlight of wit to become visible. Meantime the mind 
plays innocently with its own phosphorescence, which is 
what we call culture and what dons are created to keep 
alive. Wit the dons often have, of an oblique kind, in 
the midst of their much-indulged prejudices and foibles ; 
and what with glints of wit and scraps of learning, the 
soul is not sent away empty from their door : better fed 
and healthier, indeed, for these rich crumbs from the 
banquet of antiquity, when thought was fresh, than if 

DONS 45 

it had been reared on a stuffy diet of useful knowledge, 
or on some single dogmatic system, to which life-slavery 
is attached. Poor, brusque, comic, venerable dons ! You 
watched over us tenderly once, whilst you blew your long 
noses at us and scolded ; then we thought only of the 
roses in your garden, of your succulent dinners, or perhaps 
of your daughters ; but now we understand that you had 
hearts yourselves, that you were song-birds grown old in 
your cages, having preferred fidelity to adventure. We 
catch again the sweet inflection of your cracked notes, and 
we bless you. You have washed your hands among the 
innocent ; you have loved the beauty of the Lord s house. 


BRITISH satirists are very scornful of snobbery ; they seem 
oppressed by the thought that wealth, rank, and finery 
are hideously inane and that they are hideously powerful. 
Are these moralists really overcome by a sense of the 
. vanity of human wishes ? It would hardly seem so ; for 
they often breathe a sentimental adoration for romantic 
love or philanthropy or adventure or mystic piety or good 
cheer or ruthless will all of them passions as little likely 
as any snobbish impulse to arise without some illusion or 
to end without some disappointment. Why this exclusive 
hostility to the vanities dear to the snob ? Have birth, 
money, and fashion no value whatever ? Do they not 
dazzle the innocent and unsophisticated with a distant 
image of happiness ? Are they not actually, when enjoyed, 
very comforting and delightful things in their way ? 
What else than this sensitiveness to better social example 
which we may call snobbery if we please lends English 
life in particular its most characteristic excellences order 
without constraint, leisure without apathy, seclusion with 
out solitude, good manners without punctilio, emulation 
without intrigue, splendour without hollowness ? Why 
such bitterness about the harmless absurdities that may 
fringe this national discipline ? Are these moralists in 


fact only envious and sulky ? Is it sour grapes ? It 
would sometimes seem as if, in England, the less represent 
ative a man was the more eagerly he took to literature, and 
thought that by hating his fellow-men and despising their 
prevalent feelings he rendered himself eminently fit to be 
their guide and redeemer. 

/ In fact, there is a philosophical principle implied in 
snobbery, a principle which is certainly false if made 
absolute, but which fairly expresses the moral relations 
of things in a certain perspective. If we all really stood 
on different steps in a single ladder of progress, then to 
admire and imitate those above us and to identify our 
selves with them by hook or by crook would be simply to 
accelerate our natural development, to expand into our 
higher self, and to avoid fatal abysses to the right and to 
the left of the path marked out for us by our innate voca 
tion. Life would then be like the simple game which 
children call Follow the Leader ; and this scrupulous 
discipleship would be perfect freedom, since the soul of 
our leader and our own soul that chooses him would be 
the same. This principle is precisely that of the tran 
scendental philosophy where it maintains that there is but 
one spirit in all men, and one logical moral evolution for 
the world. In fact, it is the Germans rather than the 
English that are solemn, convinced, and universal snobs. 
If they do not seem so much snobs in particular, it is because 
they are snobs uberhaupt. It is not only from the nobility 
that grateful dews descend on their sensitive hearts, as 
upon open flowers ; they yearn also after the professors 
and the artists, and assiduously dress their domestic mind, 
so far as the cloth will go, in the latest intellectual fashion. 
Their respect for what holds the official stage, and holds 
it for the moment, is beautiful in its completeness. They 
can change their front without changing their formation. 
And the occasional pricks and heartburnings of snobbery 
are entirely drowned, in their case, in its voluminous 

rious joys. 

On the whole, however, snobbish sentiment and tran 
scendental philosophy do not express the facts of nature. 
Men and nations do not really march in single file, as if 
they were being shepherded into some Noah s Ark. They 


have perhaps a common root and similar beginnings, but 
they branch out at every step into forms of life between 
which there is no further interchange of sap, and no 
common destiny. Their several fruits become incom 
mensurable in beauty and in value, like the poetry of 
different languages, and more disparate the more each is 
perfected after its kind. The whale is not a first sketch 
for the butterfly, nor its culmination ; the mind of an ox 
is not a fuller expression of that of a rabbit. The poet does 
not evolve into the general, nor vice versa ; nor does a 
man, in growing further, become a woman, superior as she 
may be in her own way. That is why snobbery is really 
a vice : it tempts us to neglect and despise our proper 
virtues in aping those of other people. If an angel appeared 
to me displaying his iridescent wings and treble voice and 
heart fluttering with eternal love, I should say, " Certainly, 
I congratulate you, but I do not wish to resemble you." 
Snobbery haunts those who are not reconciled with them 
selves ; evolution is the hope of the immature. You cannot 
be everything. Why not be what you are ? / 

This contentment with oneself, in its rational mixture 
of pride with humility, and its infinite indifference to 
possibilities which to us are impossible, is well understood 
in the great East which is a moral as well as a geo 
graphical climate. There every one feels that circumstances 
have not made and cannot unmake the soul. Variations 
of fortune do not move a man from his inborn centre of 
gravity. Whatever happens and whatever people say he 
puts up with as he would with bad weather. He lets them 
thunder and rage, and continues to sit on his heels in his 
corner, in the shade or in the sun according to the season, 
munching his crust of bread, meditating on heaven and 
earth, and publishing on occasion to the passers-by, or to 
the wilderness, the revelations he receives from the spirit ; 
and if these are particularly vivid, he will not hesitate to 
cry, " So saith the Lord," with an equal dignity or assurance 
whether he be sage, king, or beggar. Such firmness and 
independence of character are admirable, so long as the 
expression of them remains merely poetical or moral. 
It is enough if confessions are sincere, and aspirations 
true to the heart that utters them. In the heights and the 


depths we are all solitary, and we are deceived if we think 
otherwise, even when people say they agree with us, or 
form a sect under our name. As our radical bodily func 
tions are incorrigibly selfish and persistent, so our ultimate 
ideals, if they are sincere, must for ever deviate from those 
of others and find their zenith in a different star. The 
moral world is round like the heavens, and the direc 
tions which life can take are infinitely divergent and 

But in the world of circumstances, in matters of politics 
and business, information, and thrift, civilized men move 
together : their interests, if not identical, are parallel, 
and their very conflicts and rivalries arise out of this 
contact and relevance in their aims. Eminence in this 
worldly sphere is unmistakable. One fortune in money 
can be measured against another and may be increased 
to equal it ; and in government, fashion, and notoriety 
some people are unmistakably at the top of the tree, and 
doubtless deserve to be there, having found the right 
method of climbing. It is only natural that those who 
wish to climb too should study and imitate them. Awe 
and respect for such persons is an honest expression of 
social idealism : it is an admiration mixed with curiosity 
and with the desire for propinquity, because their achieve 
ments are in our own line of business and a prospective 
partnership is not out of the question. Their life is the 
ideal of ours. Yet all such conventional values and 
instrumentalities, in which we are perhaps absorbed, in 
the end say nothing to the heart. If by chance, in the 
shifts of this world, we pop up near the people whom we 
distantly admired, and reach the crest of the wave in their 
company, we discover how great an illusion it was that it 
would be good or possible for us to resemble them ; con 
ventional friends, we have no instincts, joys, or memories 
in common. It is, perhaps, from quite another age or 
race, from an utterly different setting of worldly tasks and 
ambitions, that some hint of true friendship and under 
standing reaches us in our hermitage ; and even this hint 
is probably a hollow reverberation of our own soliloquy. 
In this slippery competitive earth snobbery is not un 
reasonable ; but in heaven and hell there are no snobs. 


There every despised demon hugs his favourite vice for 
ever, and even the smallest of the stars shines with a 
singular glory. 


To call an attitude snobbish, when the great and good 
recommend it as the only right attitude, would be to 
condemn it without trial ; yet I do not know how else to 
name the sentiment that happiness of one sort^ is better 
than happiness of another sort, and that perfection in 
one animal is more admirable than perfection in another. 
I wish there was a word for this arrangement of excellences 
in higher and lower classes which did not imply approval 
or disapproval of such an arrangement. But language is 
terribly moralistic, and I do not blame the logicians for 
wishing to invent another which shall convey nothing 
to the mind with which it has any previous acquaintance. 
The Psyche, who is the mother of language as well as of 
intellect, feels things to be good or evil before she notices 
what other qualities they may have : and she never gets 
much beyond the first dichotomy of her feminine logic : 
wretch and darling, nasty and nice. This is perhaps the 
true reason why Plato, who in some respects had a feminine 
mind and whose metaphysics follows the lines of language, 
tells us in one place that the good is the highest of the 
Ideas, and the source of both essence and existence. 
Good and bad are certainly the first qualities fixed by 
words : so that to call a man a snob, for instance, is a very 
vague description but a very clear insult. Suppose we found 
on examination that the person in question had a retiring 
and discriminating disposition, that he shunned the un 
washed, that he resembled persons of distinction, and 
recognized the superiority of those who were really his 
superiors ; we should conclude without hesitation that he 
was no snob at all, but a respectable, right-minded person. 
If he had been really a snob, he would have looked up 
stupidly to what has no true sublimity, like birth without 
money, would have imitated what was not becoming to 



his station, and would have shunned company, such as our 
own, which though perhaps not the most fashionable is 
undoubtedly the best. As I can see no scientific difference 
between this snob and that no-snob, I am constrained in 
my own thoughts to class them together ; but in order 
to remind myself that the same principle may be approved 
in one case and condemned in the other, I call snobbery, 
when people approve of it, the higher snobbery. 

An interesting advocate of the higher snobbery is 
Nietzsche. Although his admiring eye is fixed on the 
superman, who is to supersede our common or garden 
humanity, the unique excellence of that future being 
does not seem to lie merely in that he is future, or is 
destined to be dominant in his day : after all, everything 
was once future, everything was once the coming thing, 
and destined to prevail in its day. It is only human to 
admire and copy the fashion of to-day, whether in clothes, 
or politics, or literature, or speculation ; but I have not 
yet heard of any snob so far ahead of his times as to love 
the fashions of doomsday. The worship of evolution, 
which counts for so much with many higher snobs, does not 
seem essential in Nietzsche. The superman no doubt is 
coming, but he is not coming to stay, since the world 
repeats its evolution in perpetual cycles ; and whilst he 
will give its highest expression to the love of power, it 
does not appear that he will care very much about control 
ling external things, or will be able to control them. His 
superiority is to be intrinsic, and chiefly composed of 
freedom. It was freedom, I think, that Nietzsche sighed 
for in his heart, whilst in his cavalierly speculations he 
talked of power. At least, unless by power he meant power 
to be oneself, the notion that all nature was animated by 
the lust of power would lose its plausibility ; the ambition 
which we may poetically attribute to all animals is rather 
to appropriate such things as serve their use, perfection, or 
fancy, and to leave all else alone. There are indications 
that the superman was to be a mystic and a wanderer, 
like a god visiting the earth, and that what spell he 
exercised was to flow from him almost unawares, whilst he 
mused about himself and about higher things. So little 
was his power to involve subjection to what he worked 


upon (which is the counterpart of all material power) that 
he was to disregard the interests of others in a Spartan 
mood ; he was to ride ruthlessly through this nether world, 
half a poet, half a scourge, with his breast uncovered to 
every treacherous shaft, and his head high in the air. 

Now I will not say whether such a romantic and Byronic 
life is worth living in itself ; there may be creatures whose 
only happiness is to be like that, although I suspect that 
Byron and Nietzsche, Lohengrin and Zarathustra, had not 
mastered the art of Socrates, and did not know what they 
wanted. In any case, such a Dionysiac career would be 
good only as the humblest human existence may be so ; 
its excellence would lie in its harmony with the nature 
of him who follows it, not in its bombast, inflation, or 
superhumanity. Nietzsche was far from ungenerous or 
unsympathetic towards the people. He wished them 
(somewhat contemptuously) to be happy, whilst he and his 
superman remained poetically wretched ; he even said 
sometimes that in their own sphere they might be perfect, 
and added with that sincerity which, in him, redeems so 
many follies that nothing could be better than such 
perfection. But if this admission is to be taken seriously, 
the superman would be no better than the good slave. 
The whole principle of the higher snobbery would be 
abandoned, and Nietzsche in the end would only lead us 
back to Epictetus. 

No, the higher snob will reply, the perfect superman 
may be no better than the perfect slave, but he is higher. 
What does this word mean ? For the zealous evolutionist 
it seems to mean later, more complicated, requiring a 
longer incubation and a more special environment. There 
fore what is higher is more expensive, and has a more 
precarious existence than what is lower ; so the lady is 
higher than the woman, fine art is higher than useful art, 
and the height of the fashion in fine art is the highest 
point in it. The higher is the more inclusive, requiring 
everything else to produce it, and itself producing nothing, 
or something higher still. Of course the higher is not 
merely the better ; because the standard of excellence 
itself changes as we proceed, and according to the standard 
of the lower morality the higher state which abolishes it 


will be worse. An orchid may not be more beautiful than 
a lily, but it is higher ; philosophy may not be truer than 
science, nor true at all, but it is higher, because so much 
more comprehensive ; faith may not be more trustworthy 
than reason, but it is higher ; insatiable will may not be 
more beneficent than contentment in oneself and respect 
for others, but it is higher ; war is higher, though more 
painful, than peace ; perpetual motion is not more reason 
able than movement towards an end, and stilts are not 
more convenient than shoes, but they are higher. In 
everything the higher, when not the better, means what 
folly or vanity cannot bear to abandon. Higher is a word 
by which we defend the indefensible ; it Ts a declaration 
of impenitence on the part of unreason, a cry to create 
prejudice in favour of all that tyrannizes over mankind. 
It is the watchword of the higher snob. The first to use 
it was Satan, when he declared that he was not satisfied 
to be anything but the highest ; whereas the highest thinks 
it no derogation to take the form of the lowest since the 
lowest, too, has its proper perfection, and there is nothing 
better than that. 


ENGLAND has been rich in poets, in novelists, in inventors, 
in philosophers making new beginnings, in intrepid 
travellers, in learned men whose researches are a hobby 
and almost a secret. The land was once rich in saints, 
and is still rich in enthusiasts. But the official leaders of 
the English people, the kings, prelates, professors, and 
politicians, have usually been secondary men ; and even 
they have been far more distinguished in their private 
capacity than in their official action and mind. English 
genius is anti-professional ; its affinities are with amateurs, 
and there is something of the amateur in the best English 
artists, actors, and generals. Delicacy of conscience, 
mental haze, care not to outrun the impulse of the soul, 
hold the Englishman back midway in his achievements ; 
there is in him a vague respect for the unknown, a tacit 


diffidence in his own powers, which dissuade him from 
venturing on the greatest things or from carrying them 
out in a comprehensive manner. The truth is the British 
do not wish to be well led. They are all individualistic 
and aristocratic at heart, and want no leaders in ultimate 
things ; the inner man must be his own guide. If they 
had to live under the shadow of a splendid monarch, or a 
masterful statesman, or an authoritative religion, or a 
deified state they would not feel free. They wish to peck 
at their institutions, and tolerate only such institutions as 
they can peck at. A certain ineptitude thus comes to be 
amongst them an aptitude for office : it keeps the official 
from acquiring too great an ascendancy. There is a sort 
of ostracism by anticipation, to prevent men who are too 
good from coming forward and upsetting the balance of 
British liberties ; very like the vacuum which is created in 
America around distinction, and which keeps the national 
character there so true to type, so much on one lively level. 
But in England distinction exists, because it escapes into 
privacy. It is reserved for his Grace in his library and her 
Ladyship at her tea-table ; it fills the nursery with lisping 
sweetness and intrepid singleness of will ; it dwells with 
the poets in their solitary rambles and midnight question 
ings ; it bends with the scholar over immortal texts ; it 
is shut off from the profane by the high barriers of school 
and college and hunting-field, by the sanctity and silence 
of clubs, by the unspoken secrets of church and home. 

The greatest distinction of English people, however, is 
one which, whilst quite personal and private in its scope, 
is widely diffused and strikingly characteristic of the better 
part of the nation ; I mean, distinction in the way of 
living. The Englishman does in a distinguished way the 
simple things that other men might slur over as un 
important or essentially gross or irremediable ; he is 
distinguished he is disciplined, skilful, and calm in 
eating, in sport, in public gatherings, in hardship, in 
danger, in extremities. It is in physical and rudimentary 
behaviour that the Englishman is an artist ; he is the ideal 
sailor, the ideal explorer, the ideal comrade in a tight 
place ; he knows how to be clean without fussiness, well- 
dressed without show, and pleasure-loving without loud- 


ness. This is why, although he is the most disliked of 
men the world over (except where people need some one 
they can trust) he is also the most imitated. What 
ferocious Anglophobe, whether a white man or a black 
man, is not immensely flattered if you pretend to have 
mistaken him for an Englishman ? After all, this imitation 
of the physical distinction of Englishmen is not absurd ; 
here is something that can be imitated : it is really the 
easiest way of doing easy things, which only bad education 
and bad habits have made difficult for most people. There 
is nothing impossible in adopting afternoon tea, football, 
and boy scouts ; what is impossible, and if possible very 
foolish, is to adopt English religion, philosophy, or political 
institutions. But why should any one wish to adopt 
them ? They have their merits, of course, and their 
propriety at home ; but they are blind compromises, and it 
is not in their principles that the English are distinguished, 
but only in their practice. Their accents are more choice 
than their words, and their words more choice than their 
ideas. This, which might sound like a gibe, is to my mind 
a ground for great hope and for some envy. Refinement, 
like charity, should begin at home. First the body ought 
to be made fit and decent, then speech and manners, and 
habits justly combining personal initiative with the power 
of co-operating with others ; and then, as this healthy life 
extends, the world will begin to open out to the mind in 
the right perspectives : not at first, perhaps never, in its 
total truth and its real proportions, but with an ever- 
enlarging appreciation of what, for us, it can contain. 
The mind of the Englishman, starting in this proud and 
humble and profound way from the inner man, pierces very 
often, in single directions, to the limit of human faculty ; 
and it seems to me to add to his humanity, without injury 
to his speculation, that he instinctively withdraws again 
into himself, as he might return home to marry and settle 
after tempting fortune at the antipodes. His curious 
knowledge and his personal opinions then become, as it 
were, mementos of his distant adventures ; but his sterling 
worth lies in himself. He is at his best when free impulse 
or familiar habit takes an unquestioned lead, and when 
the mind, not being expected to intervene, beats in easy 


unison with the scene and the occasion, like a rider at 
home in the saddle and one with his galloping horse. 
Then grace returns to him, so angular often in his forced 
acts and his express tenets ; the smile comes unaffectedly, 
and the blithe quick words flow as they should ; arm is 
linked spontaneously in arm, laughter points the bull s- 
eye of truth, the whole world and its mysteries, not being 
pressed, become amiable, and the soul shines happy, and 
beautiful, and absolute mistress in her comely house. 
Nothing in him then is gross ; all is harmonized, all is 
touched with natural life. His simplicity becomes whole 
ness, and he no longer seems dull in any direction, but in 
all things sound, sensitive, tender, watchful, and brave. 


FRIENDSHIP is almost always the union of a part of one 
mind with a part of another ; people are friends in spots. 
Friendship sometimes rests on sharing early memories, 
as do brothers and schoolfellows, who often, but for that 
now affectionate familiarity with the same old days, would 
dislike and irritate one another extremely. Sometimes it 
hangs on passing pleasures and amusements, or on special 
pursuits ; sometimes on mere convenience and comparative 
lack of friction in living together. One s friends are that 
part of the human race with which one can be human. 
But there are youthful friendships of quite another quality, 
which I seem to have discovered flourishing more often 
and more frankly in England than in other countries ; 
brief echoes, as it were, of that love of comrades so much 
celebrated in antiquity. I do not refer to the " friendship 
of virtue " mentioned by Aristotle, which means, I suppose, 
community in allegiance or in ideals. It may come to 
that in the end, considered externally ; but community 
in allegiance or in ideals, if genuine, expresses a common 
disposition, and its roots are deeper and more physical 
than itself. The friendship I have in mind is a sense of 
this initial harmony between two natures, a union of one 


whole man with another whole man, a sympathy between 
the centres of their being, radiating from those centres 
on occasion in unanimous thoughts, but not essentially 
needing to radiate. Trust here is inwardly grounded ; 
likes and dislikes run together without harness, like the 
steeds of Aurora ; you may take agreement for granted 
without words ; affection is generously independent of 
all tests or external bonds ; it can even bear not to be 
mutual, not to be recognized ; and in any case it shrinks 
from the blatancy of open vows. In such friendships there 
is a touch of passion and of shyness ; an understanding 
which does not need to become explicit or complete. There 
is wine in the cup ; it is not to be spilled nor gulped down 
unrelished, but to be sipped slowly, soberly, in the long 
summer evening, with the window open to the college 
garden, and the mind full of all that is sweetest to the 

Now there is a mystery here though it need be no 
mystery which some people find strange and distressing 
and would like to hush up. This profound physical 
sympathy may sometimes, for a moment, spread to the 
senses ; that is one of its possible radiations, though 
fugitive ; and there is a fashionable psychology at hand 
to explain all friendship, for that reason, as an aberration 
of sex. Of course it is such in some people, and in many 
people it may seem to be such at rare moments ; but it 
would be a plain abuse of language to call a mother s love 
for her children sexual, even when they are boys, although 
certainly she could not have that love, nor those children, 
if she had no sex. Perhaps if we had no sex we should 
be incapable of tenderness of any sort ; but this fact does 
not make all forms of affection similar in quality nor in 
tendency. The love of friends is not, like the love of 
woman, a lyrical prologue to nest - building. Engaging, 
no doubt, the same radical instincts, in a different environ 
ment and at another phase of their development, it turns 
them, whilst still plastic, in other directions. Human 
nature is still plastic, especially in the region of emotion, 
as is proved by the ever-changing forms of religion and 
art ; and it is not a question of right and wrong, nor even, 
except in extreme cases, of health and disease, but only 


a question of alternative development, whether the human 
capacity to love is absorbed in the family cycle, or extends 
to individual friendships, or to communion with nature 
or with God. The love of friends in youth, in the cases 
where it is love rather than friendship, has a mystical 
tendency. In character, though seldom in intensity, it 
resembles the dart which, in an ecstatic vision, pierced the 
heart of Saint Theresa, bursting the normal integument 
by which the blood is kept coursing through generation 
after generation, in the closed channel of human existence 
and human slavery. Love then escapes from that round ; 
it is, in one sense, wasted and sterilized ; but in being 
diverted from its earthly labours it suffuses the whole 
universe with light ; it casts its glowing colours on the 
sunset, upon the altar, upon the past, upon the truth. 
The anguished futility of love corrects its own selfishness, 
its own illusion ; gradually the whole world becomes 
beautiful in its inhuman immensity ; our very defeats 
are transfigured, and we see that it was good for us to have 
gone up into that mountain. 

That such mystic emotions, whether in religion or in 
friendship, are erotic was well known before the days of 
Freud. They have always expressed themselves in erotic 
language. And why should they not be erotic ? Sexual 
passion is itself an incident in the life of the Psyche, a 
transitive phase in the great cycle by which life on earth 
is kept going. It grows insensibly out of bodily self-love, 
childish play, and love of sensation ; it merges in the end, 
after its midsummer night s dream, into parental and 
kingly purposes. How casual, how comic, the purely 
erotic impulse is, and how lightly nature plays with it, 
may be seen in the passion of jealousy. Jealousy is in 
separable from sexual love, and yet jealousy is not itself 
erotic either in quality or in effect, since it poisons pleasure, 
turns sympathy into suspicion, love into hate, all in the 
interests of proprietorship. Why should we be jealous, 
if we were simply merry ? Nature weaves with a wide 
loom, and crosses the threads ; and erotic passion may be 
as easily provoked peripherally by deeper impulses as be 
itself the root of other propensities. Lovers sometimes 
pretend at first to be only friends, and friends have some- 


times fancied, at first blush, that they were lovers ; it is 
as easy for one habit or sentiment as for the other to prove 
the radical one, and to prevail in the end. As for English 
men, the last thing they would do would be to disguise 
some base prompting in high-flown language ; they would 
call a spade a spade, if there were occasion. They are 
shy of words, as of all manifestations ; and this very 
shyness, if it proves that there is at bottom a vital instinct 
concerned, also proves that it is not intrinsically more 
erotic than social, nor more social than intellectual. It 
is each of these things potentially, for such faculties are 
not divided in nature as they are in language ; it may turn 
into any one of them if accident leads it that way ; but it 
reverts from every casual expression to its central seat, 
which is the felt harmony of life with life, and of life with 
nature, with everything that in the pulses of this world 
beats our own measure, and swells the music of our 



IF Christendom should lose everything that is now in the 
melting-pot, human life would still remain amiable and 
quite adequately human. I draw this comforting assurance 
from the pages of Dickens. Who could not be happy in 
his world ? Yet there is nothing essential to it which 
the most destructive revolution would be able to destroy. 
People would still be as different, as absurd, and as charm 
ing as are his characters ; the springs of kindness and folly 
in their lives would not be dried up. Indeed, there is 
much in Dickens which communism, if it came, would 
only emphasize and render universal. Those schools, 
those poorhouses, those prisons, with those surviving 
shreds of family life in them, show us what in the coming 
age (with some sanitary improvements) would be the 
nursery and home of everybody. Everybody would be a 
waif, like Oliver Twist, like Smike, like Pip, and like David 
Copperfield ; and amongst the agents and underlings of 
social government, to whom all these waifs would be 


entrusted, there would surely be a goodly sprinkling of 
Pecksniffs, Squeers s, and Fangs ; whilst the Fagins 
would be everywhere commissioners of the people. Nor 
would there fail to be, in high places and in low, the 
occasional sparkle of some Pickwick or Cheeryble Brothers 
or Sam Weller or Mark Tapley ; and the voluble Flora 
Finchings would be everywhere in evidence, and the 
strong-minded Betsey Trotwoods in office. There would 
also be, among the inefficient, many a Dora and Agnes and 
Little Emily with her charm but without her tragedy, 
since this is one of the things which the promised social 
reform would happily render impossible ; I mean, by 
removing all the disgrace of it. The only element in the 
world of Dickens which would become obsolete would be 
the setting, the atmosphere of material instrumentalities 
and arrangements, as travelling by coach is obsolete ; 
but travelling by rail, by motor, or by airship will emotion 
ally be much the same thing. It is worth noting how such 
instrumentalities, which absorb modern life, are admired 
and enjoyed by Dickens, as they were by Homer. The 
poets ought not to be afraid of them ; they exercise the 
mind congenially, and can be played with joyfully. Con 
sider the black ships and the chariots of Homer, the coaches 
and river-boats of Dickens, and the aeroplanes of to-day ; 
to what would an unspoiled young mind turn with more 
interest ? Dickens tells us little of English sports, but he 
shares the sporting nature of the Englishman, to whom 
the whole material world is a playing-field, the scene 
giving ample scope to his love of action, legality, and 
pleasant achievement. His art is to sport according to the 
rules of the game, and to do things for the sake of doing 
them, rather than for any ulterior motive. 

It is remarkable, in spite of his ardent simplicity , 
and openness of heart, how insensible Dickens was to/ 
the greater themes of the human imagination religion, 
science, politics, art. He was a waif himself, and utterly 
disinherited. For example, the terrible heritage of conten 
tious religions which fills the world seems not to exist for 
him. In this matter he was like a sensitive child, with a 
most religious disposition, but no religious ideas. Perhaps, 
properly speaking, he had no ideas on any subject ; what 



he had was a vast sympathetic participation in the daily 
life of mankind ; and what he saw of ancient institutions 
made him hate them, as needless sources of oppression, 
misery, selfishness, and rancour. His one political passion 
was philanthropy, genuine but felt only on its negative, 
reforming side ; of positive Utopias or enthusiasms we 
hear nothing. The political background of Christendom is 
only, so to speak, an old faded back-drop for his stage ; 
a castle, a frigate, a gallows, and a large female angel with 
white wings standing above an orphan by an open grave 
a decoration which has to serve for all the melodramas 
in his theatre, intellectually so provincial and poor. 
Common life as it is lived was varied and lovable enough 
for Dickens, if only the pests and cruelties could be 
removed from it. Suffering wounded him, but not vul 
garity ; whatever pleased his senses and whatever shocked 
them filled his mind alike with romantic wonder, with the 
endless delight of observation. Vulgarity and what can 
we relish, if we recoil at vulgarity ? was innocent and 
amusing ; in fact, for the humorist, it was the spice of 
life. There was more piety in being human than in being 
pious. In reviving Christmas, Dickens transformed it 
from the celebration of a metaphysical mystery into a 
feast of overflowing simple kindness and good cheer ; the 
church bells were still there in the orchestra ; and the 
angels of Bethlehem were still there painted on the 
back-curtain. Churches, in his novels, are vague, desolate 
places where one has ghastly experiences, and where only 
the pew-opener is human ; and such religious and political 
conflicts as he depicts in Barnaby Rudge and in A Tale of 
Two Cities are street brawls and prison scenes and con 
spiracies in taverns, without any indication of the contrasts 
in mind or interests between the opposed parties. Nor 
had Dickens any lively sense for fine art, classical tradition, 
science, or even the manners and feelings of the upper 
classes in his own time and country : in his novels we may 
almost say there is no army, no navy, no church, no sport, 
no distant travel, no daring adventure, no feeling for the 
watery wastes and the motley nations of the planet, and 
luckily, with his notion of them no lords and ladies. 
Even love of the traditional sort is hardly in Dickens s 


sphere I mean the soldierly passion in which a rather 
rakish gallantry was sobered by devotion, and loyalty 
rested on pride. In Dickens love is sentimental or 
benevolent or merry or sneaking or canine ; in his last 
book he was going to describe a love that was passionate 
and criminal ; but love for him was never chivalrous, 
never poetical. What he paints most tragically is a 
quasi-paternal devotion in the old to the young, the love 
of Mr. Peggotty for Little Emily, or of Solomon Gills for 
Walter Gay. A series of shabby little adventures, such as 
might absorb the interest of an average youth, were 
romantic enough for Dickens. 

I say he was disinherited, but he inherited the most 
terrible negations. Religion lay on him like the weight 
of the atmosphere, sixteen pounds to the square inch, yet 
never noticed nor mentioned. He lived and wrote in 
the shadow of the most awful prohibitions. Hearts petri 
fied by legality and falsified by worldliness offered, indeed, 
a good subject for a novelist, and Dickens availed himself 
of it to the extent of always contrasting natural goodness 
and happiness with whatever is morose ; but his morose 
people were wicked, not virtuous in their own way ; so 
that the protest of his temperament against his environ 
ment never took a radical form nor went back to first 
principles. He needed to feel, in his writing, that he 
was carrying the sympathies of every man with him. 
In him conscience was single, and he could not conceive 
how it could ever be divided in other men. He denounced j 
scandals without exposing shams, and conformed willingly 
and scrupulously to the proprieties. Lady Dedlock s \ 
secret, for instance, he treats as if it were the sin of Adam, 
remote, mysterious, inexpiable. Mrs. Dombey is not 
allowed to deceive her husband except by pretending to 
deceive him. The seduction of Little Emily is left out 
altogether, with the whole character of Steerforth, the 
development of which would have been so important in 
the moral experience of David Copperfield himself. \But it 
is not public prejudice alone that plays the censor over 
Dickens s art ; his own kindness and even weakness of 
heart act sometimes as marplotsA The character of Miss 
Mowcher, for example, so brilliantly introduced, was 


evidently intended to be shady, and to play a very im 
portant part in the story ; but its original in real life, 
which was recognized, had to be conciliated, and the 
sequel was omitted and patched up with an apology 
itself admirable for the poor dwarf. Such a sacrifice 
does honour to Dickens s heart ; but artists should meditate 
on their works in time, and it is easy to remove any too 
great likeness in a portrait by a few touches making it more 
consistent than real people are apt to be ; and in this case, 
if the little creature had been really guilty, how much more 
subtle and tragic her apology for herself might have been, 
like that of the bastard Edmund in King Lear \ So, too, in 
Dombey and Son, Dickens could not bear to let Walter 
Gay turn out badly, as he had been meant to do, and to 
break his uncle s heart as well as the heroine s ; he was 
accordingly transformed into a stage hero miraculously 
saved from shipwreck, and Florence was not allowed to 
reward the admirable Toots, as she should have done, 
with her trembling hand. (But Dickens was no free artist ; 
he had more genius than taste, a warm fancy not aided by 
a thorough understanding of complex characters. He 
worked under pressure, for money and applause, and often 
had to cheapen in execution what his inspiration had so 
vividly conceived/ 

What, then, is there left, if Dickens has all these limita 
tions ? In our romantic disgust we might be tempted" to- 
say, Nothing. But in fact almost everything is left, almost 
everything that counts in the daily life of mankind, or that 
by its presence or absence can determine whether life 
shall be worth living or not ; because a simple good life is 
worth living, and an elaborate bad life is not. There 
remains in the first place eating and drinking ; relished 
not bestially, but humanly, jovially, as the sane and 
exhilarating basis for everything else. This is a sound 
English beginning ; but the immediate sequel, as the 
England of that day presented it to Dickens, is no less 
delightful. There is the ruddy glow of the hearth ; the 
sparkle of glasses and brasses and well-scrubbed pewter ; 
the savoury fumes of the hot punch, after the tingle of the 
wintry air ; the coaching-scenes, the motley figures and 
absurd incidents of travel ; the changing sights and joys 


of the road. And then, to balance this, the traffic of 
ports and cities, the hubbub of crowded streets, the luxury 
of shop-windows and of palaces not to be entered ; the 
procession of the passers-by, shabby or ludicrously genteel ; 
the dingy look and musty smell of their lodgings ; the 
labyrinth of back-alleys, courts, and mews, with their 
crying children, and scolding old women, and listless, 
half-drunken loiterers. These sights, like fables, have a 
sort of moral in them to which Dickens was very sensitive ; 
the important airs of nobodies on great occasions, the 
sadness and preoccupation of the great as they hasten by 
in their mourning or on their pressing affairs ; the sadly 
comic characters of the tavern ; the diligence of shop 
keepers, like squirrels turning in their cages ; the children 
peeping out everywhere like grass in an untrodden street ; 
the charm of humble things, the nobleness of humble 
people, the horror of crime, the ghastliness of vice, the 
deft hand and shining face of virtue passing through the 
midst of it all ; and finally a fresh wind of indifference 
and change blowing across our troubles and clearing the 
most lurid sky. 

I do not know whether it was Christian charity or 
naturalistic insight, or a mixture of both (for they ara \ 
closely akin) that attracted Dickens particularly to the * I 
deformed, the half-witted, the abandoned, or those impeded 
or misunderstood by virtue of some singular inner consecra 
tion. The visible moral of these things, when brutal 
prejudice does not blind us to it, comes very near to true 
philosophy ; one turn of the screw, one flash of reflection, 
and we have understood nature and human morality and 
the relation between them. 

In his love of roads and wayfarers, of river-ports and 
wharves and the idle or sinister figures that lounge about 
them, Dickens was like Walt Whitman ; and I think a 
second Dickens may any day appear in America, when it 
is possible in that land of hurry to reach the same degree 
of saturation, the same unquestioning pleasure in the 
familiar facts. The spirit of Dickens would be better able 
to do justice to America than was that of Walt Whitman ; 
because America, although it may seem nothing but a 
noisy nebula to the impressionist, is not a nebula but a 


concourse of very distinct individual bodies, natural and 
social, each with its definite interests and story. Walt 
Whitman had a sort of transcendental philosophy which 
swallowed the universe whole, supposing there was a 
universal spirit in things identical with the absolute spirit 
that observed them ; but Dickens was innocent of any 
such clap -trap, and remained a true spirit in his own 
person. Kindly and clear-sighted, but self-identical and 
unequivocally human, he glided through the slums like 
one of his own little heroes, uncontaminated by their 
squalor and confusion, courageous and firm in his clear 
allegiances amid the flux of things, a pale angel at the 
Carnival, his heart aflame^ his voice always flute-like in 
its tenderness and warning^ This is the true relation of 
spirit to existence, not the other which confuses them ; 
for this earth (I cannot speak for the universe at large) 
has no spirit of its own, but brings forth spirits only at 
certain points, in the hearts and brains of frail living 
creatures, who like insects flit through it, buzzing and 
gathering what sweets they can ; and it is the spaces they 
traverse in this career, charged with their own moral 
burden, that they can report on or describe, not things 
rolling on to infinity in their vain tides. To be hypnotized 
by that flood would be a heathen idolatry. Accordingly 
Walt Whitman, in his comprehensive democratic vistas, 
could never see the trees for the wood, and remained 
incapable, for all his diffuse love of the human herd, of 
ever painting a character or telling a story ; the very 
things in which Dickens was a master. It is this life of 
the individual, as it may be lived in a given nation, that 
determines the whole value of that nation to the poet, to 
the moralist, and to the judicious historian. But for the 
excellence of the typical single life, no nation deserves to 
be remembered more than the sands of the sea ; and 
America will not be a success, if every American is a 

Dickens entered the theatre of this world by the stage 
door ; the shabby little adventures of the actors in their 
private capacity replace for him the mock tragedies which 
they enact before a dreaming public. Mediocrity of circum 
stances and mediocrity of soul for ever return to the centre 

\. stanc 


of his stage ; a more wretched or a grander existence is 
sometimes broached, but the pendulum soon swings back, 
and we return, with the relief with which we put on our 
slippers after the most romantic excursion, to a golden 
mediocrity to mutton and beer, and to love and babies 
in a suburban villa with one frowsy maid. Dickens-is^lEe 
poet of those acres of yellow-brick-streets* which the traveller 
sees from the railway viaducts as he approaches London ; 
they need a poet, and they deserve one, since a complete 
human life may very well be lived there. Their little 
excitements and sorrows, their hopes and humours are 
like those of the Wooden Midshipman in Dombey and 
Son; but the sea is not far off, and the sky Dickens 
never forgets it is above all those brief troubles. He 
had a sentiment in the presence of this vast flatness of 
human fates, in spite of their individual pungency, which 
I think might well be the dominant sentiment of mankind 
in the future ; a sense of happy freedom in littleness, an 
open-eyed reverence and religion without words. This 
universal human anonymity is like a sea, an infinitive 
democratic desert, chock-full and yet the very image of 
emptiness, with nothing in it for the mind, except, as the 
Moslems say, the presence of Allah. Awe is the counterpart 
of humility and this is perhaps religion enough. The atom 
in the universal vortex ought to be humble ; he ought to 
see that, materially, he doesn t much matter, and that 
morally his loves are merely his own, without authority 
over the universe. He can admit without obloquy that 
he is what he is ; and he can rejoice in his own being, 
and in that of all other things in so far as he can share it 
sympathetically. The apportionment of existence and of 
fortune is in Other Hands ; his own portion is contentment, 
vision, love, and laughter. 

^Having humility, that most liberating of sentiments, 
having a true" vision of human existence and joy in that 
vision, Dickens had in a superlative degree the gift of 
humour, of mimicry, of unrestrained farce. -, He was the 
perfect comedian. When people say Dickens exaggerates, 
it seems to me they can have no eyes and no ears. They 
probably have only notions of what things and people are ; 
they accept them conventionally, at their diplomatic value. 



Their minds run on in the region of discourse, where there 
are masks only and no faces, ideas and no facts ; they have 
little sense for those living grimaces that play from moment 
to moment upon the countenance of the world. The world 
is a perpetual caricature of itself ; at every moment it is 
the mockery and the contradiction of what it is pretending 
to be. But as it nevertheless intends all the time to be 
something different and highly dignified, at the next 
moment it corrects and checks and tries to cover up the 
absurd thing it was ; so that a conventional world, a world 
of masks, is superimposed on the reality, and passes in 
every sphere of human interest for the reality itself. 
Humour is the perception of this illusion, the fact allowed 
to pierce here and there through the convention, whilst 
the convention continues to be maintained, as if we had 
not observed its absurdity. Pure comedy is more radical, 
cruder, in a certain sense less human ; because comedy 
throws the convention over altogether, revels for a moment 
in the fact, and brutally says to the notions of mankind, 
as if it slapped them in the face, There, take that ! That s 
what you really are ! At this the polite world pretends to 
laugh, not tolerantly as it does at humour, but a little 
angrily. It does not like to see itself by chance in the 
glass, without having had time to compose its features 
for demure self -contemplation. " What a bad mirror," it 
exclaims ; "it must be concave or convex ; for surely I 
never looked like that. Mere caricature, farce, and horse 
play. Dickens exaggerates ; I never was so sentimental as 
that ; / never saw anything so dreadful ; / don t believe 
there were ever any people like Quilp, or Squeers, or 
Serjeant Buzfuz." But the polite world is lying ; there 
are such people ; we are such people ourselves in our true 
moments, in our veritable impulses ; but we are careful to 
stifle and to hide those moments from ourselves and from 
the world ; to purse and pucker ourselves into the mask 
of our conventional personality ; and so simpering, we 
profess that it is very coarse and inartistic of Dickens to 
undo our life s work for us in an instant, and remind us 
of what we are. And as to other people, though we may 
allow that considered superficially they are often absurd, 
we do not wish to dwell on their eccentricities, nor to mimic 


them. On the contrary, it is good manners to look away 
quickly, to suppress a smile, and to say to ourselves that 
the ludicrous figure in the street is not at all comic, but a 
dull ordinary Christian, and that it is foolish to give any 
importance to the fact that its hat has blown off, that it 
has slipped on an orange-peel and unintentionally sat on 
the pavement, that it has a pimple on its nose, that its 
one tooth projects over its lower lip, that it is angry with 
things in general, and that it is looking everywhere for the 
penny which it holds tightly in its hand. That may fairly 
represent the moral condition of most of us at most times ; 
but we do not want to think of it ; we do not want to see ; 
we gloss the fact over ; we console ourselves before we 
are grieved, and reassert our composure before we have 
laughed. We are afraid, ashamed, anxious to be spared. 
What displeases us in Dickens is that he does not spare 
us ; he mimics things to the full ; he dilates and exhausts 
and repeats ; he wallows. He is too intent on the passing 
experience to look over his shoulder, and consider whether 
we have not already understood, and had enough. He is 
not thinking of us ; he is obeying the impulse of the passion, 
the person, or the story he is enacting. This faculty, which 
renders him a consummate comedian, is just what alienated 
from him a later generation in which people of taste were 
aesthetes and virtuous people were higher snobs ; they 
wanted a mincing art, and he gave them copious improviza- 
tion, they wanted analysis and development, and he gave 
them absolute comedy. I must confess, though the fault is 
mine and not his, that sometimes his absoluteness is too 
much for me. When I come to the death of Xittfe Nell, 
or to What the Waves were always Saying, or even to the 
incorrigible perversities of the pretty Dora, I skip. I can t 
take my liquor neat in such draughts, and my inner man 
says to Dickens, Please don t. But then I am a coward 
in so many ways ! There are so many things in this world 
that I skip, as I skip the undiluted Dickens ! When I 
reach Dover on a rough day, I wait there until the Channel 
is smoother ; am I not travelling for pleasure ? But my 
prudence does not blind me to the admirable virtue of the 
sailors that cross in all weathers, nor even to the automatic 
determination of the sea-sick ladies, who might so easily 


have followed my example, if they were not the slaves of 
their railway tickets and of their labelled luggage. They 
are loyal to their tour, and I to my philosophy. Yet as 
wrapped in my great-coat and sure of a good dinner, I 
pace the windy pier and soliloquize, I feel the superiority 
of the bluff tar, glad of breeze, stretching a firm arm to the 
unsteady passenger, and watching with a masterful thrill 
of emotion the home cliffs receding and the foreign coasts 
ahead. It is only courage (which Dickens had without 
knowing it) and universal kindness (which he knew he had) 
that are requisite to nerve us for a true vision of this world. 
And as some of us are cowards about crossing the Channel, 
and others about " crossing the bar," so almost everybody 
is a coward about his own humanity. We do not consent 
to be absurd, though absurd we are. We have no funda 
mental humility. We do not wish the moments of our 
lives to be caught by a quick eye in their grotesque initia 
tive, and to be pilloried in this way before our own eyes. 
For that reason we don t like Dickens, and don t like comedy, 
and don t like the truth. Dickens could don the comic 
mask with innocent courage ; he could wear it with a 
grace, ease, and irresistible vivacity seldom given to men. 
We must go back for anything like it to the very greatest 
comic poets, to Shakespeare or to Aristophanes. Who else, 
for instance, could have penned this : 

" It was all Mrs. Bumble. She would do it," urged Mr. 
Bumble ; first looking round to ascertain that his partner 
had left the room. 

" That is no excuse," replied Mr. Brownlow. " You were 
present on the occasion of the destruction of these trinkets, 
and indeed are the more guilty of the two, in the eye of the 
law ; for the law supposes that your wife acts under your 

" If the law supposes that," said Mr. Bumble, squeezing 
his hat emphatically in both hands, " the law is a ass, a idiot. 
If that s the eye of the law, the law is a bachelor ; and the 
worst I wish the law is, that his eye may be opened by 
experience by experience." 

Laying great stress on the repetition of these two words, 
Mr. Bumble fixed his hat on very tight, and putting his hands 
in his pockets, followed his helpmate downstairs. 


This is high comedy ; the irresistible, absurd, intense 
dream of the old fool, personifying the law in order to 
convince and to punish it. I can understand that this sort 
of thing should not be common in English literature, nor 
much relished ; because pure comedy is scornful, merciless, 
devastating, holding no door open to anything beyond. 
Cultivated English feeling winces at this brutality, although 
the common people love it in clowns and in puppet shows ; 
and I think they are right. Dickens, who surely was 
tender enough, had so irresistible a comic genius that it 
carried him beyond the gentle humour which most English 
men possess to the absolute grotesque reality. Squeers, 
for instance, when he sips the wretched dilution which he 
has prepared for his starved and shivering little pupils, 
smacks his lips and cries : " Here s richness I " It is 
savage comedy ; humour would come in if we understood 
(what Dickens does not tell us) that the little creatures 
were duly impressed and thought the thin liquid truly 
delicious. I suspect that English sensibility prefers the 
humour and wit of Hamlet to the pure comedy of Falstaff ; 
and that even in Aristophanes it seeks consolation in the 
lyrical poetry for the flaying of human life in the comedy 
itself. Tastes are free ; but we should not deny that 
in merciless and rollicking comedy life is caught in the 
act. The most grotesque creatures of Dickens are not 
exaggerations or mockeries of something other than them 
selves ; they arise because nature generates them, like 
toadstools ; they exist because they can t help it, as we 
all do. The fact that these perfectly self -justified beings 
are absurd appears only by comparison, and from outside ; 
circumstances, or the expectations of other people, make 
them ridiculous and force them to contradict themselves ; 
but in nature it is no crime to be exceptional. Often, but 
for the savagery of the average man, it would not even be 
a misfortune. The sleepy fat boy in Pickwick looks foolish ; 
but in himself he is no more foolish, nor less solidly self- 
justified, than a pumpkin lying on the ground. Toots 
seems ridiculous ; and we laugh heartily at his incoherence, 
his beautiful waistcoats, and his extreme modesty ; but 
when did anybody more obviously grow into what he is 
because he couldn t grow otherwise ? So with Mr. Pickwick, 


and Sam Weller, and Mrs. Gamp, and Micawber, and all 
the rest of this wonderful gallery ; they are ridiculous only 
by accident, and in a context in which they never intended 
to appear. If Oedipus and Lear and Cleopatra do not seem 
ridiculous, it is only because tragic reflection has taken 
them out of the context in which, in real life, they would 
have figured. If we saw them as facts, and not as 
emanations of a poet s dream, we should laugh at them 
till doomsday ; what grotesque presumption, what silly 
whims, what mad contradiction of the simplest realities ! 
Yet we should not laugh at them without feeling how real 
their griefs were ; as real and terrible as the griefs of 
children and of dreams. But facts, however serious 
inwardly, are always absurd outwardly ; and the just 
critic of life sees both truths at once, as Cervantes did in 
Don Quixote. A pompous idealist who does not see the 
ridiculous in all things is the dupe of his sympathy and 
abstraction ; and a clown, who does not see that these 
ridiculous creatures are living quite in earnest, is the dupe 
of his egotism. Dickens saw the absurdity, and understood 
the life ; I think he was a good philosopher. 

It is usual to compare Dickens with Thackeray, which 
is like comparing the grape with the gooseberry ; there are 
obvious points of resemblance, and the gooseberry has 
some superior qualities of its own ; but you can t make 
red wine of it. The wine of Dickens is of the richest, the 
purest, the sweetest, the most fortifying to the blood ; 
there is distilled in it, with the perfection of comedy, the 
perfection of morals. I do not mean, of course, that Dickens 
appreciated all the values that human life has or might 
have ; that is beyond any man. Even the greatest philo 
sophers, such as Aristotle, have not always much imagina 
tion to conceive forms of happiness or folly other than 
those which their age or their temperament reveals to them ; 
their insight runs only to discovering the principle of 
happiness, that it is spontaneous life of any sort harmonized 
with circumstances. The sympathies and imagination of 
Dickens, vivid in their sphere, were no less limited in range ; 
and of course it was not his business to find philosophic 
formulas ; nevertheless I call his the perfection of morals 
for two reasons : that he put the distinction between good 


and evil in the right place, and that he felt this distinction 
intensely. A moralist might have excellent judgement, he 
might see what sort of life is spontaneous in a given being 
and how far it may be harmonized with circumstances, yet 
his heart might remain cold, he might not suffer nor rejoice 
with the suffering or joy he foresaw. Humanitarians like 
Bentham and Mill, who talked about the greatest happiness 
of the greatest number, might conceivably be moral prigs 
in their own persons, and they might have been chilled to 
the bone in their theoretic love of mankind, if they had 
had the wit to imagine in what, as a matter of fact, the 
majority would place their happiness. Even if their theory 
had been correct (which I think it was in intention, though 
not in statement) they would then not have been perfect 
moralists, because their maxims would not have expressed 
their hearts. In expressing their hearts, they ought to 
have embraced one of those forms of " idealism " by which 
men fortify themselves in their bitter passions or in their 
helpless commitments ; for they do not wish mankind to 
be happy in its own way, but in theirs. Dickens was not 
one of those moralists who summon every man to do 
himself the greatest violence so that he may not offend 
them, nor defeat their ideals. Love of the good of others 
is something that shines in every page of Dickens with a 
truly celestial splendour. How entirely limpid is his 
sympathy with life a sympathy uncontaminated by 
dogma or pedantry or snobbery or bias of any kind ! 
How generous is this keen, light spirit, how pure this 
open heart ! And yet, in spite of this extreme sensibility, 
not the least wobbling ; no deviation from a just severity 
of judgement, from an uncompromising distinction between 
white and black. And this happens as it ought to happen ; 
sympathy is not checked by a flatly contrary prejudice 
or commandment, by some categorical imperative irrelevant 
to human nature ; the check, like the cheer, comes by 
tracing the course of spontaneous impulse amid circum 
stances that inexorably lead it to success or to failure. 
There is a bed to this stream, freely as the water may flow ; 
when it comes to this precipice it must leap, when it runs 
over these pebbles it must sing, and when it spreads into 
that marsh it must become livid and malarial. The very 


sympathy with human impulse quickens in Dickens the 
sense of danger ; his very joy in joy, makes him stern to 
what kills it. How admirably drawn are his surly villains ! 
No rhetorical vilification of them, as in a sermon ; no 
exaggeration of their qualms or fears ; rather a sense of 
how obvious and human all their courses seem from their 
own point of view ; and yet ho sentimental apology for 
them, no romantic worship of rebels in their madness or 
crime. The pity of it, the waste of it all, are seen not by 
a second vision but by the same original vision which 
revealed the lure and the drift of the passion. Vice is a 
monster here of such sorry mien, that the longer *we see 
it the more we deplore it ; that other sort of vice which 
Pope found so seductive was perhaps only some innocent 
impulse artificially suppressed, and called a vice because 
it broke out inconveniently and displeased the company. 
True vice is human nature strangled by the suicide of 
attempting the impossible. Those so self-justified villains 
of Dickens never elude their fates. Bill Sikes is not let 
off, neither is Nancy ; the oddly benevolent Magwitch does 
not escape from the net, nor does the unfortunate young 
Richard Carstone, victim of the Circumlocution Office. 
The horror and ugliness of their fall are rendered with the 
hand of a master ; we see here, as in the world, that in 
spite of the romanticists it is not virtue to rush enthusiasti 
cally along any road. I think Dickens is one of the best 
friends mankind has ever had. He has held the mirror up 
to nature, and of its reflected fragments has composed a 
fresh world, where the men and women differ from real 
people only in that they live in a literary medium, so that 
all ages and places may know them. And they are worth 
knowing, just as one s neighbours are, for their picturesque 
characters and their pathetic fates. Their names should 
be in every child s mouth ; they ought to be adopted 
members of every household. Their stories cause the 
merriest and the sweetest chimes to ring in the fancy, 
without confusing our moral judgement or alienating our 
interest from the motley commonplaces of daily life. In 
every English-speaking home, in the four quarters of the 
globe, parents and children will do well to read Dickens 
aloud of a winter s evening ; they will love winter, and 


one another, - and God the better for it. What a wreath 
that will be of ever-fresh holly, thick with bright berries, to 
hang to this poet s memory the very crown he would 
have chosen ! 


GREAT buildings often have great doors ; but great doors 
are heavy to swing, and if left open they may let in too 
much dold or glare ; so that we sometimes observe a small 
postern cut into one leaf of the large door for more con 
venient entrance and exit, and it is seldom or never that 
the monumental gates yawn in their somnolence. Here 
is the modest human scale reasserting itself in the midst 
of a titanic structure, but it reasserts itself with an ill 
grace and in the interests of frailty ; the patch it makes 
seems unintended and ignominious. 

Yet the human scale is not essentially petty ; when 
it does not slip in as a sort of interloper it has nothing to 
apologize for. Between the infinite and the infinitesimal 
all sizes are equally central. The Greeks, the Saracens, 
the English, the Chinese, and Japanese instinctively retain 
the human scale in all that part of their work which is 
most characteristic of them and nearest to their affections. 
A Greek temple or the hall of an English mansion can be 
spacious and dignified enough, but they do not outrun 
familiar uses, and they lend their spaciousness and dignity 
to the mind, instead of crushing it. Everything about them 
has an air of friendliness and sufficiency ; their elegance 
is not pompous, and if they are noble they are certainly 
not vast, cold, nor gilded. 

The Saracens, Chinese, and Japanese in their various 
ways use the human scale with even greater refinement, 
for they apply it also in a sensuous and psychological 
direction. Not only is the size of their works moderate by 
preference, like their brief lyrics, but they exactly meet 
human sensibility by a great delicacy and concentration 
in design and a fragrant simplicity in workmanship. 
Everything they make is economical in its beauty and 


seems to say to us : "I exist only to be enjoyed ; there is 
nothing in me not merely delightful." Here the human 
scale is not drawn from the human body so much as from 
the human soul ; its faculties are treated with deference 
I mean the faculties it really has, not those, like reason, 
which a flattering philosophy may impute to it. 

An English country house which is a cottage in appear 
ance may turn out on examination to be almost a palace 
in extent and appointments ; there is no parade, yet there 
is great profusion too much furniture, too many orna 
ments, too much food, too many flowers, too many people. 
Everything there is on the human scale except the quantity 
of things, which is oppressive. The Orientals are poorer, 
more voluptuous, and more sensitive to calligraphy ; 
they leave empty spaces about them and enjoy one thing 
at a time and enjoy it longer. 

One reason for this greater subtlety and mercifulness 
in the art of Orientals is perhaps the fiercer assault made 
on their senses by nature. The Englishman lives in a 
country which is itself on the human scale, clement at all 
seasons, charming with a gently inconstant atmospheric 
charm. The rare humanity of nature in his island 
permeates his being from boyhood up with a delight that 
is half sentimental, half physical and sporting. In his 
fields and moors he grows keen and fond of exertion ; 
there too his friendships and his estimates of men are 
shaped unawares, as if under some silent superior influence. 
There he imbibes the impressions that make him tender to 
poetry. He may not require great subtlety in his poets, 
but he insists that their sentiment shall have been felt 
and their images seen, and while the obvious, even the 
shamelessly obvious, does not irritate him, he hates cheap 
sublimity and false notes. He respects experience and is 
master of it in his own field. 

Thus the empty spaces with which a delicate art likes 
to surround itself are supplied for the Englishman by his 
comradeship with nature, his ranging habits, and the 
reticence of his imagination. There the unexpressed 
dimension, the background of pregnant silence, exists for 
him in all its power. For the Saracen, on the contrary, 
nature is an abyss : parched deserts, hard mountains, 


night with its overwhelming moon. Here the human scale 
is altogether transgressed ; nature is cruel, alien, excessive, 
to be fled from with a veiled face. For a relief and solace 
he builds his house without windows ; he makes his life 
simple, his religion a single phrase, his art exquisite and 
slight, like the jet of his fountain. It is sweet and necessary 
that the works of man should respect the human scale 
when everything in nature so infinitely transcends it. 

Why the Egyptians loved things colossal I do not 
know, but the taste of the Romans for the grandiose is 
easier to understand. It seems to have been part and 
parcel of that yearning for the super-human which filled 
late antiquity. This yearning took two distinct directions. 
Among the worldly it fostered imperialism, organization, 
rhetoric, portentous works, belief in the universality and 
eternity of Rome, and actual deification of emperors. 
Among the spiritually-minded it led to a violent abstraction 
from the world, so that the soul in its inward solitude 
might feel itself inviolate and divine. The Christians at 
first belonged of course to the latter party ; they detested 
the inflation of the empire, with its cold veneer of marble 
and of optimism ; they were nothing if not humble and 
dead to the world. Their catacombs were perforce on the 
human scale, as a coffin is ; but even when they emerged 
to the surface, they reduced rather than enlarged the 
temples and basilicas bequeathed to them by the pagans. 
Apart from a few imperial structures at Constantinople 
or Ravenna their churches for a thousand years kept to 
the human scale ; often they were diminutive ; when 
necessary they were spread out to hold multitudes, but 
remained low and in the nature of avenues to a tomb or a 
shrine. The centre was some sombre precinct, often 
subterranean, where the inward man might commune with 
the other world. The sacraments were received with a 
bowed head ; they did not call for architectural vistas. 
The sumptuousness that in time encrusted these sanctuaries 
was that of a jewel the Oriental, interior, concentrated 
sumptuousness of the cloistered arts. Yet the open-air 
pagan tradition was not dead. Roman works were every 
where, and not all in ruins, and love of display and of 
plastic grandiloquence lay hardly dormant in the breast 


of many. It required only a little prosperity to dispel the 
mystical humility and detachment which Christianity 
had brought with it at first ; and the human scale of the 
Christian Greeks yielded at the first opportunity to the 
gigantic scale of the Romans. Spaces were cleared, vaults 
were raised, arches were made pointed in order that they 
might be wider and be poised higher, towers and spires 
were aimed at the clouds, usually getting only half way, 
porches became immense caverns. Brunelleschi accom 
plished a tour de force in his dome and Michelangelo another 
in his, even more stupendous. These various strained 
models, straining in divergent directions, have kept artists 
uneasy and impotent ever since, except when under some 
benign influence they have recovered the human scale, 
and in domestic architecture or portrait painting have 
forgotten to be grand and have become felicitous. 

The same movement is perhaps easier to survey in 
philosophy than in architecture. Scarcely had Socrates 
brought investigation down from the heavens and limited 
it to morals a realm essentially on the human scale 
when his pupils hastened to undo his work by projecting 
their moral system again into the sky, denaturalizing both 
morals and nature. They imagined a universe circling 
about man, tempering the light for his eyes and making 
absolute his childlike wishes and judgements. This was 
humanism out of scale and out of place, an attempt to 
cut not the works of man but the universe to human 
measure. It was the nemesis that overtook the Greeks 
for having become too complacently human. Earlier the 
monstrous had played a great part in their religion ; hence 
forth that surrounding immensity having been falsely 
humanized, their modest humanity itself had to be made 
monstrous to fill its place. 

Hence we see the temples growing larger and larger, 
the dome introduced, things on the human scale piled on 
one another to make a sublime fabric, like Saint Sophia, 
triumphal arches on pedestals not to be passed through, 
vain columns like towers, with a statue poised on the 
summit like a weathercock, and finally doors so large that 
they could not be opened and little doors had to be cut in 
them for men to use. So the human scale turned up 


again irrepressibly, but for the moment without its native 
dignity, because it had been stretched to compass a lifeless 
dignity quite other than its own. 


NESTS were the first buildings ; I suppose the birds built 
them long before man ceased to be four-footed or four- 
handed, and to swing by his tail from trees. The nests 
of man were coverts, something between a hole in the 
ground and an arbour ; a retreat easily turned into a wig 
wam, a hut, or a tent, when once man had begun to flay 
animals and to weave mats. From the tent we can imagine 
the cart developing one of the earliest of human habita 
tions and from the cart the boat : tents, boats, and carts 
(as the Englishman knows so well) are in a manner more 
human than houses ; they are the shelters of freemen. 
Some men, those destined to higher things, are migratory ; 
they have imagination, being haunted by absent things, 
and distance of itself allures them, even if dearth or danger 
does not drive them on ; indeed, dearth and danger would 
not of themselves act as incentives to migration, if some 
safer and greener paradise were not present to the fancy. 
Ranging into varied climates, these men feel the need of 
that portable shelter which we call clothes ; and at a 
slightly greater distance from their skins, they surround 
themselves with a second integument, also portable, the 
tent, cart, or boat. The first home of man is appropriately 
without foundations, except in the instincts of his soul ; 
and it is only by a slight anchorage to the earth, in some 
tempting glen or by some flowing river, that the cart, 
boat, or tent becomes a dwelling-house. Here I see the 
secret of that paradox, that the English people who have 
invented the word home, should be such travellers and 
colonists, and should live so largely and so contentedly 
abroad. Home is essentially portable ; it has no terrene 
foundation, like a tomb, a well, or an altar ; it is an 
integument of the living man, as the body itself is ; and as 


the body is more than the raiment, and determines its 
form, so the inner man is more than his dwelling, and 
causes it to mould and to harden itself round him like a 
shell, wherever he may be. Home is built round his bed, 
his cupboard, and his chimney-corner ; and such a nest, if 
it fits his habits, is home all the world over, from Hudson s 
Bay to Malacca ; at least, it becomes home when the inner 
man, as he is prompted inwardly to do, surrounds himself 
there with a family ; for a home is a nest, and somehow 
incomplete without an egg to sit on. 

This seems to me to be the true genealogy of English 
architecture, in so far as it is English. Strictly speaking, 
there is no English architecture at all, only foreign archi 
tecture adapted and domesticated in England. But how 
thoroughly and admirably domesticated ! How entirely 
transmuted inwardly from the classic tragic monumental 
thing it was, into something which, even if in abstract 
design it seems unchanged, has a new expression, a new 
scale, a new subordination of part to part, and as it were 
a new circulation of the blood within it ! It has all been 
made to bend and to cling like ivy round the inner man ; 
it has all been rendered domestic and converted into a 
home. Far other was the character proper to nobler 
architecture in its foreign seats. There it had been essenti 
ally military, religious, or civic : it had begun perhaps with 
a slight modification or rearrangement of great stones lying 
on the ground, perhaps infinitely rooted in its depths. 
Its centre was no living person, but some spot with a magic 
and compulsive influence, or with a communal function ; 
it came to glorify three slabs the tomb, the hearth, and 
the altar and to render them monumental. The tribe 
or the king had a treasure to be roofed over and walled 
in ; the mound where the dead lay buried was marked 
with a heap of stones ; pillars were set up to the right and 
to the left of the presiding deity, to dignify the place where 
he delivered true oracles, and dispensed magic powers. 
This deity himself was a pillar, scarcely humanized in form, 
or fantastically named after some animal ; and as he grew 
colossal, and his features took form and colour, his sacred 
head had to be arched over with more labour and art ; 
and the approach to him was impressively delayed through 


pylons, courts, narthex, or nave, into the sepulchral darkness 
of the holy of holies. Similarly defences grew into citadels, 
and judgement-seats into palaces ; and as for individual 
men, if they did not sleep in the embrasure of some temple 
gate, or under some public stair, they found cubicles in the 
galleries of the king s court, or built themselves huts to 
breed in under the lee of the fortifications. 

This sort of architecture has a tragic character ; it 
dominates the soul rather than expresses it, and embodies 
stabilities and powers far older than any one man, and far 
more lasting. It confronts each generation like an inexor 
able deity, like death and war and labour ; life is passed, 
thoughtlessly but not happily, under that awful shadow. 
Of course, there are acolytes in the temple and pages in the 
palace that scamper all over the most hallowed precincts, 
tittering and larking ; and the same retreats may seem 
luminous and friendly afterwards to the poet, the lover, 
or the mind bereaved ; yet in their essential function these 
monuments are arresting, serious, silent, overwhelming ; 
they are a source of terror and compunction, like tragedy ; 
they are favourable to prayer, ecstasy, and meditation. 
At other times they become the scene of enormous gather 
ings, of parades and thrilling celebrations ; but always it is 
a vast affair, like a court ball, in which one insinuates 
one s littleness into what corner one can, to see and feel 
the movement of the whole, without playing any great 
part in it. Even the most amiable forms of classic archi 
tecture have this public character. There is the theatre 
and the circus, into which one must squeeze one s person 
uncomfortably, in order to subject one s mind to contagious 
emotions, and the judgements of the crowd ; and even 
the public fountain, at which the housemaids and water- 
boys wait for their turn, plays for ever far above the heads 
of the people ; as if that Neptune and those dolphins 
were spouting for their own pleasure, cooling the sun 
shine for their own bronze limbs, and never caring whether 
they soused the passing mortal, or quenched his thirst. 

All these forms and habits are intensely un-English, and 
yet England is full of vestiges of them, not only because 
its fine arts are derived from abroad, but because, however 
disguised, the same tragic themes must appear everywhere. 


The tomb, the temple, the fortress are obligatory things ; 
but they become properly English in character only when 
their public function recedes into the background, and they 
become interesting to the inner man by virtue of associations 
or accidents which harmonize them with his sentimental 
experience. They grow English in growing picturesque. 
These castles and abbeys were Norman when they were 
built, they were expressions of domination and fear, hard, 
crude, practical, and foreign. But now the moat is grass- 
grown, the cloister in ruins, the headless saints are posts 
for the roses to creep over, the frowning keep has lost its 
battlements and become a comfortable mansion mantled 
with ivy ; before it the well-dressed young people play 
croquet on the lawn ; and the chapel, whitewashed within, 
politely furnished with pews, and politely frequented on 
Sundays, is embowered in a pretty garden of a graveyard, 
which the yew seems to sanctify more than the cross, 
and the flowers to suit better than the inscriptions ; there 
is a bench there round the great tree, where the old villagers 
sit of an evening, and its branches, far overtopping the 
church spire with its restored sun-dial, seem to dispense 
a surer grace and protection than the church itself : they 
seem more unequivocally the symbol and the work of 
God. So everything, in its ruin, seems in England to live 
a new life ; and it is only this second life, this cottage 
built in the fallen stronghold, that is English. 

If great architecture has a tragic character, it does not 
exclude, in the execution, a certain play of fancy, a sportive 
use of the forms which the needful structure imposes ; and 
these decorative frills or arbitrary variations of theme 
might be called comic architecture. This is the side of the 
art which is subject to fashion, and changes under the 
same influences, with the same swiftness and the same 
unanimity. But as fashions among peasants sometimes 
last for ages, so certain decorative themes, although quite 
arbitrary, sometimes linger on because of the inertia of 
the eye, which demands what it is used to, or the poverty 
of invention in the designer. The worst taste and the best 
taste revel in decoration ; but the motive here is play 
and there display. The Englishman deprecates both ; he 
abominates the tawdry, the theatrical, the unnecessarily 


elaborate ; and at the same time he is shy of novelty and 
playfulness ; give him comfortable old grey clothes, good 
for all weathers, and comfortable, pleasing, inconspicuous 
houses, where he can live without feeling a fool or being 
the victim of his possessions. The comic poses of archi 
tecture, which come to him from abroad, together with its 
tragic structure, he accordingly tones down and neutralizes 
as far as possible. How gently, for instance, how pleasantly 
the wave of Italian architecture broke on these grassy 
shores ! The classic line, which is tragic in its simple 
veracity and fixity, had already been submerged in attempts 
to vary it ; in England, as in France, the Gothic habit of 
letting each part of a building have its own roof and its 
own symmetry, at once introduced the picturesque into 
the most " classic " designs. The Italian scale, too, was 
at once reduced, and the Italian rhetoric in stone, the 
baroque and the spectacular, was obliterated. How 
pleasantly the Palladian forms were fitted to their English 
setting ; how the windows were widened and subdivided, 
the show pediments forgotten, the wreathed urns shaved 
into modest globes, the pilasters sensibly broadened into 
panels, and the classical detail applied to the native Gothic 
framework, with its gables, chimneys, and high roofs ; 
whence the delightful brood of Jacobean and Queen Anne 
houses ; and in the next generation the so genteel, so 
judicious Georgian mansion, with its ruddy brick, its broad 
windows, and its delicate mouldings and accessories of 
stone. The tragic and the comic were spirited away 
together, and only the domestic remained. 

Nevertheless, at one of the greatest moments in its 
history, England had seemed to revel in comic art, and to 
have made it thoroughly its own. Domestic taste had 
reduced Gothic too, in England, to the human scale ; pro 
digies of height and width in vaulting were not attempted, 
doors remained modest, hooded, perhaps, with an almost 
rustic porch ; the vast spaces were subdivided, they were 
encrusted with ornament ; the lines became playful, fan- 
tracery was invented, and floral pendants of stone ; the 
walls became all glass, the ceilings carved bowers, and 
Gothic seemed on the point of smothering its rational 
skeleton altogether in luxurious trappings and the millinery 



of fashion. All England seemed to become one field of the 
cloth of gold ; rooms looked like gilded palanquins or 
silken tents, roofs were forests of bannerets, pinnacles, and 
weathercocks ; heraldry (a comic art) overspread every 
garment and utensil. Poetry, too, became euphuistic and 
labyrinthine and nevertheless friendly and familiar and 
full of a luscious humour, like the wit of the people. Even 
prose was a maze of metaphors and conceits, every phrase 
was embroidered, and no self-respecting person could say 
yea or nay without some artful circumlocution. It was 
this outburst of universal comedy that made Shakespeare 
possible an exuberant genius in some respects not like 
a modern Englishman ; he rose on the crest of a somewhat 
exotic wave of passion and vivacity, which at once subsided. 
Some vestiges of that spirit seem to linger in American 
manners ; but for the most part puritanism killed it ; and 
I do not think we need regret its loss. What could England 
have been but for the triumph of Protestantism there ? 
Only a coarser France, or a cockney Ireland. The puritan 
stiffening was essential to raise England to its external 
dignity and greatness ; and it was needed to fortify the 
inner man, to sober him, and persuade him to be worthy of 
himself. As for comic art, there is enough of it elsewhere, 
in the oriental and the French schools, and in painting and 
drawing, if not in architecture, all the younger artists are 
experimenting with it. The sort of aestheticism which was 
the fashion in London at the end of the nineteenth century 
tried to be playful, and to dote on art for its own sake ; 
but in reality it was full of a perverted moralism ; the 
aesthetes were simply Ruskin s pupils running away from 
school ; they thought it immensely important to be choice, 
and quite disgraceful to think of morals. The architecture 
of that time was certainly not comic in my sense of the 
word, it did not give a free rein to exuberant fancy : it 
was only railway Gothic. But in England the mists and 
the ivy and the green sward and the dark screening trees 
can make endurable even that abortion of the ethics of 
Ruskin : and with better models, and less wilfulness, I see 
the fresh building of to-day recovering a national charm : 
the scale small, the detail polyglot, the arrangement 
gracious and convenient, the marriage with the green earth 


and the luminous air, foreseen and prepared for. Domestic 
architecture in England follows to the letter the advice 
of Polonius : 

Costly thy garment as thy purse can buy, 
But not expressed in fancy : rich, not gaudy. 



COMPROMISE is odious to passionate natures because it 
seems a surrender, and to intellectual natures because it 
seems a confusion ; but to the inner man, to the profound 
Psyche within us, whose life is warm, nebulous, and plastic, 
compromise seems the path of profit and justice. Health 
has many conditions ; life is a resultant of many forces. 
Are there not several impulses in us at every moment ? 
Are there not several sides to every question ? Has not 
every party caught sight of something veritably right and 
good ? Is not the greatest practicable harmony, or the 
least dissension, the highest good ? And if by the word 
" truth " we designate not the actual order of the facts, 
nor the exact description of them, but some inner symbol 
of reconciliation with reality on our own part, bringing 
comfort, safety, and assurance, then truth also will lie in 
compromise : truth will be partly truth to oneself, partly 
workable convention and plausibility. A man s life as it 
flows is not a theorem to which there is any one rigid 
solution. It is composed of many strands and looks to 
divers issues. There is the love of home and the lure of 
adventure ; there is chastity which is a good, and there is 
love which is a good also ; work must leave room for sport, 
science for poetry, and reason for prejudice. Can it be a 
man s duty to annul any of the elements that make up 
his moral being and, because he possesses a religious 
tradition, shall he refuse the gifts of his senses, of his 
affections, of his country and its history, of the ruling 
science, morality, and taste of his day ? Far from it : 
religion, says the inner man, ought rather to be the highest 
synthesis of our nature, and make room for all these things. 


It should not succumb to any dead or foreign authority 
that ignores or dishonours them. The Englishman finds 
that he was born a Christian, and therefore wishes to 
remain a Christian ; but his Christianity must be his own, 
no less plastic and adaptable than his inner man ; and it 
is an axiom with him that nothing can be obligatory for 
a Christian which is unpalatable to an Englishman. 

Only a few years ago, if a traveller landing in England 
on a Sunday and entering an Anglican church, had been 
told that the country was Catholic and its church a branch 
of the Catholic church, his astonishment would have been 
extreme. " Catholic " is opposed in the first place to 
national and in the second place to Protestant ; how then, 
he would have asked himself, can a church be Catholic 
that is so obviously and dismally Protestant, and so 
narrowly and primly national ? Why then this abuse of 
language ? And why this silly provincialism of insisting 
on always calling Catholics Roman Catholics, as if there 
were any others, and they were not known by that name 
all the world over ? Nevertheless, the restoration of an 
elder Anglicanism in our day has somewhat softened these 
paradoxes ; and when we remember how fondly the English 
screen their instincts in legal fictions and in genteel shams, 
the paradoxes vanish altogether. 

What is Protestantism ? It is all things to all men, if 
they are Protestants : but I see in it three leading motifs : 
to revert to primitive Christianity, to inspire moral and 
political reform, and to accept the religious witness of the 
inner man. Now the Church of England, intensely Pro 
testant as it seemed until the other day, is not Protestant 
in any of these respects. No established national church 
could possibly be so. The subjection to Parliament which 
renders the English church not Catholic, renders it also 
not Protestant. To a primitive Christian, to a puritan 
reformer or to a transcendental mystic, a religion estab 
lished by lay authority is a contradiction in terms ; a lay 
government may be more or less inspired by righteous 
ness, but it cannot mediate salvation. A Protestant is 
essentially a nonconformist. Moreover, if we examine the 
theology of the English church, we see that whilst inci 
dentally very heretical, it is still fundamentally Catholic ; 


it admits only a single deposit of faith and one apostolic 
fountain of grace for all mankind. But in its view heresy 
in any branch of the church does not cut it off from the 
tree. Heresy is something to which all churches are liable ; 
the pope of Rome and the patriarch of Constantinople fall 
into it hardly less often or less desperately than the arch 
bishop of Canterbury himself. Heresy is to be conceived 
as eccentricity within the fold, not as separation from it ; 
it is the tacking of the ship on its voyage. Saint Peter or 
Saint Paul or both of them must have been heretical in 
their little controversies ; and Christ himself must have 
had at times, if not always, but a partial view of the truth ; 
for instance, in respect to the date and the material nature 
of his second coming. Accordingly, although it may be a 
little trying to the nerves, it is no essential scandal that a 
curate should be addicted to Mariolatry, or that a dean 
should be unfortunately ambiguous on the subject of the 
Incarnation : such rapids and backwaters in the stream 
of Christian thought only prove how broad and full it is 
capable of being. 

That many Catholic bodies, if not all, should be con 
stantly schismatic or heretical, is therefore no paradox 
with this conception of the church ; and it is obvious that 
Rome itself is heretical and schismatic on this theory, 
since it has laid an exaggerated weight on the text about 
Peter and the keys, and has claimed a jurisdiction over 
the eastern patriarchates which was certainly not primitive, 
and which these patriarchates have never honestly acknow 
ledged. On the other hand, the Church of England 
belonged to the Western Empire and its Christianity has 
always been Latin. It broke away from the patriarchate 
of Rome not at all in sympathy with the claims of Antioch 
or Constantinople, but notoriously in sympathy with 
German Protestantism. This revolt was based on the 
same anti-Catholic and inconsistent motives as the German 
Reformation namely, greed and desire for absolute power 
in princes, zeal in puritan reformers, and impatience of 
moral and intellectual constraint in the body of the clergy 
and laity. Nationalism, faith, learning, and Ikence were 
curiously mingled in those turbid minds, and the Church of 
England inherits all that indescribable spiritual confusion. 


It is national in its morals and manners, mincing in its 
scholarship, snobbish in its sympathies, sentimental in 
its emotions. Spiritual minds in the church of which 
there are many suffer under this heredity incubus of 
worldliness ; but what can they avail ? Some join the 
socialists ; a few escape to Rome ; there at least the worldli 
ness, however conspicuous, is regarded as a vice and not 
as a virtue. The convert will find no dearth of petty 
passions, machinations, vanities, tricks, and shameless 
disbelief ; but all this will be, like debauchery, a crust of 
corruption, avowedly corrupt. It is dirt on the skin, 
not cancer at the heart. But then the true Catholic has 
made the great surrender ; he has renounced, or never 
thought of maintaining, the authority of his inner man. 
He is a catechumen ; his teachers will read for him the 
symptoms of health or disease visible in his thoughts and 
dispositions ; by their discipline which is an ancient 
science they will help him to save his soul ; a totally 
different thing from obeying the impulses or extending 
the adventures of the transcendental self. The inner 
man, for the Catholic as for the materialist, is only a 
pathological phenomenon. Therefore the Englishman, as 
I conceive him, living in and by his inner man, can never 
be really a Catholic, either Anglican or Roman ; if he likes 
to call himself by either name, it is equally a masquerade, 
a fad like a thousand others to which the inner man, so 
seriously playful, is prone to lend itself. He may go over 
to Rome on a spiritual tour, as he might abscond for a 
year and live in Japan with a Japanese wife ; but if he 
is converted really, and becomes a Catholic at heart, for 
good, and in all simplicity, then he is no longer the man 
he was. Words cannot measure the chasm that must 
henceforth separate him from everything at home. I 
am not surprised that he recoils from so desperate a step. 
It is not only the outward coarseness and laxity of Catholic 
manners that offend him ; these vices are not universal, 
and he would not need to share them. But for him, a 
modern Englishman, with freedom and experiment and 
reserve in his blood, always nursing within himself the 
silent love of nature and of rebellion, to go over to Rome 
is an essential suicide : the inner man must succumb first. 


Such an Englishman might become a saint, but only by 
becoming a foreigner. 

There is another sense altogether in which the English 
church might be catholic if it chose. Suppose we lay it 
down as an axiom that whatever is acceptable to the inner 
man is good and true, and that whatever is good and true 
is Christian Christianity would then be open to every 
influence which, whilst apparently denaturalizing it, might 
help to manifest -its fulness. It would cast off husk after 
husk of doctrine, developing the living spirit and feeding it 
with every substance which it was fitted to absorb. There 
is nothing new in this process. Christianity was born of 
such a marriage between the Jewish soul and the Greek. 
Greek philosophy was absorbed with magnificent results ; 
the restoration of Pauline theology, and the other insights 
of Protestantism, led to German philosophy, which has 
been absorbed too ; the sloughing off of monasticism and 
ecclesiasticism have put Christianity in a position to 
understand and express the modern world ; the reduction 
of revelation, by the higher criticism of the Bible, to its 
true place in human history, will involve a new change 
of front ; and the absorption of modern science and of 
democracy would complete the transformation. 

To justify this method the church might appeal to an 
archbishop of Canterbury who this was in the old days 
was also a saint and a great philosopher. Saint Anselm 
has a famous proof of the existence of God which runs as 
follows : God exists, because God is, by definition, the 
most real of beings. According to this argument, if it 
should turn out that the most real of beings was matter, 
it would follow that matter was God. This might be 
thought a consequence drawn in mockery ; but I do not 
mean to deride Saint Anselm, whom I revere, but on the 
contrary to lay bare the nerve of his argument which if 
the age had given him scope, and he had not been Arch 
bishop of Canterbury, he might have followed to its 
sublime conclusion, as Spinoza did after him. There is 
a dignity in existence, in fact, in truth which to some 
speculative and rapt natures absorbs and cancels every 
other dignity : and on this principle the English church 
might, without any sudden or distressing negation, gradu- 


ally turn its worship to the most real of beings, wheresoever 
it may be found ; and I presume the most real of beings 
will be the whole of what is found everywhere. A narrower 
conception of God might at each step give place to a wider 
one ; and the church, instead of embodying one particular 
revelation and striving to impose it universally through 
propaganda, might become hospitable to all revelations, 
and find a place for the inspirations of all ages and countries 
under the aegis of its own progressive traditions. So the 
religion of ancient Rome domesticated all the gods ; and 
so the English language, if it should become the medium 
of international intercourse, might by translation or imita 
tion of other literatures or by the infiltration into it of 
foreign words and styles, reafly become a vehicle for all 
human ideas. 

I am not sure whether one party in the English church 
might not welcome such a destiny ; but at present, so far 
as I can see, the tenderer and more poetical spirits in it 
take quite another direction. They are trying to recover 
the insights and practices of mediaeval piety ; they are 
archaistic in devotion. There is a certain romance in 
their decision to believe greatly, to feel mystically, to pray 
perpetually. They study their attitudes, as they kneel 
in some correctly restored church, hearing or intoning 
some revived early chant, and wondering why they should 
not choose a divine lady in heaven to be their love and 
their advocate, as did the troubadours, or why they 
should not have recumbent effigies of themselves carved on 
their tombs, with their legs crossed, like the crusaders. 
" Things, 1 cried the rapturous young priest who showed 
me the beautiful chapel of Pusey House, " what we need 
is Things \ " 



PROTESTANT faith does not vanish into the sunlight as 
Catholic faith does, but leaves a shadowy ghost haunting 
the night of the soul. Faith, in the two cases, was not 
faith in the same sense ; for the Catholic it was belief in a 


report or an argument ; for the Protestant it was confidence 
in an allegiance. When Catholics leave the church they 
do so by the south door, into the glare of the market-place, 
where their eye is at once attracted by the wares displayed 
in the booths, by the flower-stalls with their bright awnings, 
by the fountain with its baroque Tritons blowing the 
spray into the air, and the children laughing and playing 
round it, by the concourse of townspeople and strangers, 
and by the soldiers, perhaps, marching past ; and if they 
cast a look back at the church at all, it is only to admire 
its antique architecture, that crumbling filigree of stone 
so poetically surviving in its incongruous setting. It is 
astonishing sometimes with what contempt, with what a 
complete absence of understanding, unbelievers in Catholic 
countries look back on their religion. For one cultivated 
mind that sees in that religion a monument to his racial 
genius, a heritage of poetry and art almost as precious as 
the classical heritage, which indeed it incorporated in a 
hybrid form, there are twenty ignorant radicals who pass 
it by apologetically, as they might the broken toys or 
dusty schoolbooks of childhood. Their political animosity, 
legitimate in itself, blinds their imagination, and renders 
them even politically foolish ; because in their injustice 
to human nature and to their national history they dis 
credit their own cause, and provoke reaction. 

Protestants, on the contrary, leave the church by the 
north door, into the damp solitude of a green churchyard, 
amid yews and weeping willows and overgrown mounds 
and fallen illegible gravestones. They feel a terrible 
chill ; the few weedy flowers that may struggle through 
that long grass do not console them ; it was far brighter 
and warmer and more decent inside. The church 
boring as the platitudes and insincerities were which you 
listened to there for hours was an edifice, something 
protective, social, and human ; whereas here, in this vague 
unhomely wilderness, nothing seems to await you but 
discouragement and melancholy. Better the church than 
the madhouse. And yet the Protestant can hardly go 
back, as the Catholic does easily on occasion, out of habit, 
or fatigue, or disappointment in life, or metaphysical 
delusion, or the emotional weakness of the death-bed. No, 


the Protestant is more in earnest, he carries his problem 
and his religion within him. In his very desolation he 
will find God. This has often been a cause of wonder to 
me : the Protestant pious economy is so repressive and 
morose and the Catholic so charitable and pagan, that I 
should have expected the Catholic sometimes to sigh a 
little for his Virgin and his saints, and the Protestant 
to shout for joy at having got rid of his God. But the 
trouble is that the poor Protestant can t get rid of his God ; 
for his idea of God is a vague symbol that stands not 
essentially, as with the Catholic, for a particular legendary 
or theological personage, but rather for that unfathomable 
influence which, if it does not make for righteousness, at 
least has so far made for existence and has imposed it upon 
us ; so that go through what doors you will and discard 
what dogmas you choose, God will confront you still 
whichever way you may turn. In this sense the en 
lightened Catholic, too, in leaving the church, has merely 
rediscovered God, finding him now not in the church alone, 
but in the church only as an expression of human fancy, 
and in human life itself only as in one out of a myriad 
forms of natural existence. But the Protestant is less 
clear in his gropings, the atmosphere of his inner man 
is more charged with vapours, and it takes longer for the 
light dubiously to break through ; and often in his wintry 
day the sun sets without shining. 


IN all Protestant countries I have noticed a certain hush 
about death, an uncomfortable secrecy, and a fear as if of 
blasphemy whenever the subject threatens to come up. 
Is it that hell is still felt to lie, for the vast majority, 
immediately behind the curtain ? Or is it that people 
have encouraged themselves to live and love as if they 
were immortal, and to this lifelong bluff of theirs death 
brings a contradiction which they have not the courage 
to face ? Or is it simply that death is too painful, too 


sacred, or too unseemly for polite ears ? That a desire to 
ignore everything unpleasant is at the bottom of this 
convention seems to be confirmed by an opposite attitude 
towards death which I have observed among English 
people during this war. Some of them speak of death 
quite glibly, quite cheerfully, as if it were a sort of trip to 
Brighton. " Oh yes, our two sons went down in the 
Black Prince. They were such nice boys. Never heard a 
word about them, of course ; but probably the magazine 
blew up and they were all killed quite instantly, so that 
we don t mind half so much as if they had had any of 
those bad lingering wounds. They wouldn t have liked 
it at all being crippled, you know ; and we all think it 
is probably much better as it is. Just blown to atoms \ 
It is such a blessing ! " 

Of course, the poor parents feel their hearts sink within 
them in private ; but their affectation of cheerfulness has 
its logic. Death is a fact ; and we had better accept it 
as such as we do the weather ; perhaps, if we pretend not 
to care, we really shan t care so much. The men in the 
trenches and hospitals have often been bitterly unrecon 
ciled and rebellious, and haunted by the cruel futility of 
their sufferings : but the nursing everywhere has been 
devoted and heroic : and my impression of the mourning 
at home is, that it has been philosophical. 

English manners are sensible and conducive to comfort 
even at a death-bed. No summoning of priests, no great 
concourse of friends and relations, no loud grief, no 
passionate embraces and poignant farewells ; no endless 
confabulations in the antechamber, no gossip about the 
symptoms, the remedies, or the doctors quarrels and 
blunders ; no breathless enumeration of distinguished 
visitors, letters, and telegrams ; no tearful reconciliation 
of old family feuds nor whisperings about the division of 
the property. Instead, either silence and closed doors, if 
there is real sorrow, or more commonly only a little physical 
weariness in the mourners, a little sigh or glance at one 
another, as if to say : We are simply waiting for events ; 
the doctors and nurses are attending to everything, and no 
doubt, when the end comes, it will be for the best. In the 
departing soul, too, probably dulness and indifference. No 


repentance, no anxiety, no definite hopes or desires either 
for this life or for the next. Perhaps old memories returning, 
old loves automatically reviving ; possibly a vision, by 
anticipation, of some reunion in the other world : but how 
pale, how ghostly, how impotent this death-dream is ! I 
seem to overhear the last words, the last thoughts of a 
mother : " Dear children, you know I love you. Provision 
has been made. I should be of little use to you any longer. 
How pleasant to look out of that window into the park ! 
Be sure they don t forget to give Pup some meat with his 
dog-biscuit." It is all very simple, very much repressed, 
the pattering echo of daily words. Death, it is felt, is not 
important. What matters is the part we have played in 
the world, or may still play there by our influence. We are 
not going to a melodramatic Last Judgement. We are 
shrinking into ourselves, into the seed we came from, into a 
long winter s sleep. Perhaps in another springtime we may 
revive and come again to the light somewhere, among those 
sweet flowers, those dear ones we have lost. That is God s 
secret. We have tried to do right here. If there is any 
Beyond, we shall try to do right there also. 


IN many an English village there is nowadays a calvary. 
The novel object merges with wonderful ease into the 
landscape, and one would almost think it had always been 
there. The protecting wooden eaves have already lost 
their rigidity and their varnish ; the crucifix no longer 
reminds one of the shop-window from which it came ; it 
does not suggest popish aggression nor the affectations of 
ritualism. Flecks of sunlight play upon it familiarly, as 
upon the wayside stones, and it casts its shadow across the 
common like any natural tree. The flowers in the pots 
before it have withered, they droop half hidden in the 
ivy that has overgrown them. Even the scroll of names 
has modified its official ghastliness all those newly dead 
obscure souls starkly ticketed and numbered ; the tragic 


page has got somewhat weather-stained and illegible, and 
is curling up at the edges ; it has become a dead leaf. 
Decidedly the war-shrine is at home in the scene. It is a 
portion of that unspoken truth which every one carries 
about with him, and the people seem again to breathe 
freely under the shadow of the cross. 

What does the cross signify ? We are told that Christ 
died to save us, and various analogies, legal, sentimental, 
or chivalrous, are put forward to make that notion accept 
able. I respect the sentiments of duty and devotion which 
this doctrine of legal redemption can inspire ; they express 
readiness to do well, and in a certain moral sense, as Hamlet 
says, the readiness is all ; yet it is a conception of religion 
borrowed from ancient lawyers and rhetoricians, a sort of 
celestial diplomacy. The cross can mean something else ; 
it can symbolize poetically a general truth about existence 
and experience. This truth is the same which the Indians 
express more philosophically by saying that life is an 
illusion an expression which is itself figurative and 
poetical. It is certainly not an illusion that I have now the 
experience of being alive and of finding myself surrounded, 
at least in appearance, by a tolerably tractable world, 
material and social. It is not an illusion that this experience 
is now filling me with mixed and trooping feelings. In 
calling existence an illusion, the Indian sages meant that 
it is fugitive and treacherous : the images and persons that 
diversify it are unsubstantial, and myself the most shifting 
and unsubstantial of all. The substance and fine mechanism 
which I do not doubt underlie this changing apparition are 
out of scale with my imagined units, and (beyond a certain 
point) out of sympathy with my interests. Life is an 
illusion if we trust it, but it is a truth if we do not trust it ; 
and this discovery is perhaps better symbolized by the cross 
than by the Indian doctrine of illusion. I will not say 
that not to exist would not be better ; existence may be 
condemned by the very respectable criterion of excellence 
or " reality " which demands in all things permanence and 
safety ; but so long as we exist, however precariously or 
" unreally," I think it the part of wisdom to find a way 
of living well, rather than merely to deprecate living. The 
cross is certainly a most violent image, putting suffering 


and death before us with a rude emphasis ; and I can 
understand the preference of many for the serene Buddha, 
lifting the finger of meditation and profound counsel, and 
freeing the soul by the sheer force of knowledge and of 
sweet reason. Nevertheless, I am not sorry to have been 
born a Christian : for the soul cannot be really freed except 
^by ceasing to live ; and it is whilst we still exist, not after 
we are dead to existence, that we need counsel. It is there 
fore the crucified spirit, not the liberated spirit, that is our 
true master. 

Certainly the spirit is crucified, first by being incarcerated 
in the flesh at all, and then again, after it has identified 
itself with the will of the flesh, by being compelled to 
renounce it. Yet both this painful incarnation and this 
painful redemption have something marvellously sweet 
about them. The world which torments us is truly beautiful ; 
indeed, that is one of its ways of tormenting us ; and we 
are not wrong in loving, but only in appropriating it. The 
surrender of this untenable claim to exist and to possess 
the beautiful, is in its turn beautiful and good. Christ 
loved the world, in an erotic sense in which Buddha did 
not love it : and the world has loved the cross as it can 
never love the Bo-tree. So that out of the very entangle 
ments of the spirit come marvellous compensations to the 
spirit, which in its liberation leave it still human and 
friendly to all that it gives up. I do not at all accept the 
morality of the Indians in so far as it denies the values of 
illusion ; the only evil in illusion is that it deceives ; there 
is beauty in its being. True insight, true mercy, is tender 
and sensitive to the infinite pulsations of ignorance and 
passion : it is not deceived by the prattle of the child, but 
is not offended by it. The knowledge that existence can 
manifest but cannot retain the good reconciles us at once 
to living and to dying. That, I think, is the wisdom of the 

There is a folly of the cross also, when the knowledge 
or half -knowledge that life must be suffering, until it is 
cleared of the love of life, erects suffering into an end in 
itself, which is insane and monstrous. I suspect, however, 
that in asceticism as actually preached and practised there 
is less of this idolatry of suffering than the outsider imagines, 


who lying amid his cushions severely reproves those who 
indulge in a penance. There is an asceticism which may 
be loved for its simplicity, its clean poverty and cold water, 
hygienic like mountain air ; but flagellations and blood and 
night-long wailings are not an end in themselves ; no saint 
expects to carry them with him into heaven ; at best they 
are a homoeopathic cure for the lusts of the flesh. Their 
purpose, if not their effect, is freedom and peace. I wish 
Protestants, who find their ascetic discipline in hard work, 
were equally clear about its object. From the worship of 
instrumentalities, whether penitential or worldly, the cross 
redeems us : in draining the cup of suffering it transcends 

(suffering, and in being raised above the earth it lifts us out 
of it. My instinct is to go and stand under the cross, with 
the monks and the crusaders, far away from these Jews and 
Protestants who adore the world and who govern it. 

There is a mystical folly also among the Indians, when 
they assign a positive bliss to pure Being ; this, too, is 
substance-worship. Identity with substance is deemed 
blessed because beneath the vicissitudes of illusion, substance 
remains always solid, safe, and real. Certainly substance, 
if there is such a thing, must be safe, real, and solid ; for we 
understand by substance whatever is constant in change. 
Hence the desire to escape from illusion and from suffering 
hails a return to the indistinction of substance as a positive 
salvation ; remember that you are dust, return to the 
infinite from which you came, and nothing ominous can 
threaten you any more, the dust and the infinite are safe. 
But changeless substance, being unconscious, cannot be 
blissful ; the attribution of divine bliss to it is an illusion 
of contrast, and, like so much philosophy, mere rhetoric 
turned into a revelation. What verbal mirage is this, to 
see happiness in fixity ? Substance may be conceived 
logically, and then it means pure Being ; or it may be 
conceived psychologically, and then it means absorption 
in the sense of pure Being ; or it may be conceived 
physically as matter, a name for the constant quantities in 
things that are traceably transformed into one another. 
Pure Being and the contemplation of pure Being seem at 
first sight very different from matter ; but they may be a 
dramatic impersonation of matter, viewed from the inside, 


and felt as blind intensity and solidified ignorance. No one 
calls matter blessed when viewed externally, although it is 
then that its best qualities, its fertility and order, come 
into view : yet half mankind have fallen to worshipping 
matter in envy of its internal condition, and to trying to 
fall back into it, because it is the negation (and yet the 
cause !) of all their troubles. The idea of an intense 
nothing hypnotizes them, it is the sovereign anaesthetic ; 
and they forget that this intense nothing, by its fruitfulness 
in the realm of illusion, has generated all their desires, 
including this desperate desire to be nothing, which turns 
that nothingness, by a last illusion, into a good. 

If to be saved were merely to cease, we should all be 
saved by a little waiting : and I say this advisedly, without 
forgetting that the Indians threaten us with reincarnation. 
It is a myth to which I have no objection, because only 
selfishness persuades me that if I am safe, all is well. 
What difference does it make in reality whether the suffer 
ing and ignominy of life fall to what I call myself or to what 
I call another man ? The only trouble is that the moral 
redemption which is proposed to us as a means of safety 
instead of death, touches the individual only, just as death 
does. Christ and Buddha are called saviours of the 
world ; I think it must be in irony, for the world is just 
as much in need of salvation as ever. Death and insight 
and salvation are personal. The world springs up un- 
regenerate every morning in spite of all the Tabors and 
Calvaries of yesterday. What can save the world, without 
destroying it, is self-knowledge on the part of the world, 
not of course reflective self-knowledge (for the world is not 
an animal that can think) but such a regimen and such a 
philosophy established in society as shall recognize truly 
what the world is, and what happiness is possible in it. 
The force that has launched me into this dream of life 
does not care what turns my dream takes nor how long 
it troubles me. Nature denies at every moment, not 
indeed that I am troubled and dreaming, but that there 
are any natural units like my visions, or anything anomalous 
in what I hate, or final in what I love. Under these circum 
stances, what is the part of wisdom ? To dream with one 
eye open ; to be detached from the world without hostility 


to it ; to welcome fugitive beauties and pity fugitive 
sufferings without forgetting for a moment how fugitive 
they are ; and not to lay up treasures, except in heaven. 

How charming is divine philosophy, when it is really 
divine, when it descends to earth from a higher sphere, and 
loves the things of earth without needing or collecting 
them ! What the gay Aristippus said of his mistress : 
I possess, I am not possessed, every spirit should say of an 
experience that ruffles it like a breeze playing on the 
summer sea. A thousand ships sail over it in vain, and the 
worst of tempests is in a teapot. This once acknowledged 
and inwardly digested, life and happiness can honestly 
begin. Nature is innocently fond of puffing herself out, 
spreading her peacock feathers, and saying, What a fine 
bird am I ! And so she is ; to rave against this vanity 
would be to imitate it. On the contrary, the secret of a 
merry carnival is that Lent is at hand. Having virtually 
renounced our follies, we are for the first time able to 
enjoy them with a free heart in their ephemeral purity. 
When laughter is humble, when it is not based on self- 
esteem, it is wiser than tears. Conformity is wiser than 
hot denials, tolerance wiser than priggishness and 
puritanism. It is not what earnest people renounce that 
, .makes me pity them, it is what they work for. No possible 
j, reform will make existence adorable or fundamentally 
just. Modern England has worked too hard and cared 
i too much ; so much tension is hysterical and degrading ; 
nothing is ever gained by it worth half what it spoils. 
Wealth is dismal and poverty cruel unless both are festive. 
There is no cure for birth and death save to enjoy the 
interval. The easier attitudes which seem more frivolous 
are at bottom infinitely more spiritual and profound than 
the tense attitudes ; they are nearer to understanding 
and to renunciation ; they are nearer to the cross. Perhaps 
if England had remained Catholic it might have remained 
merry ; it might still dare, as Shakespeare dared, to be 
utterly tragic and also frankly and humbly gay. The 
world has been too much with it ; Hebraic religion and 
German philosophy have confirmed it in a deliberate and 
agonized worldliness. They have sanctioned, in the hard 
working and reforming part of the middle classes, an 



unqualified respect for prosperity and success ; life is 
judged with all the blindness of life itself. There is no 
moral freedom. In so far as minds are absorbed in business 
or in science they all inevitably circle about the same 
objects, and take part in the same events, combining their 
thoughts and efforts in the same " world s work." The 
world, therefore, invades and dominates them ; they lose 
their independence and almost their distinction from one 
another. Their philosophy accordingly only exaggerates 
a little when it maintains that their individual souls are 
all manifestation of a single spirit, the Earth-spirit. They 
hardly have any souls they can call their own, that may 
be saved out of the world, or that may see and judge the 
world from above. 

Death is the background of life much as empty space 
is that of the stars ; it is a deeper thing always lying 
behind, like the black sky behind the blue. In the realm 
of existence death is indeed nothing ; only a word for 
something negative and merely notional the fact that 
each life has limits in time and is absent beyond them. 
But in the realm of truth, as things are eternally, life is a 
little luminous meteor in an infinite abyss of nothingness, 
a rocket fired on a dark night ; and to see life, and to 
value it, from the point of view of death is to see and to 
value it truly. The foot of the cross I dare not say the 
cross itself is a good station from which to survey exist 
ence. In the greatest griefs there is a tragic calm ; the 
fury of the will is exhausted, and our thoughts rise to 
another level ; as the shrill delights and the black sorrows 
of childhood are impossible in old age. People sometimes 
make crosses of flowers or of gold ; and I like to see the 
enamelled crucifix richly surrounded with scrolls, and 
encrusted with jewels ; without a touch of this pagan 
instinct the religion of the cross would not be healthy nor 
just. In the skirts of Mount Calvary lies the garden of 
the resurrection : I do not refer to any melodramatic 
resurrection, such as is pictured in Jewish and Christian 
legend, but to one which actually followed quietly, sweetly, 
in the light of a purer day, in the cloister, in the home, in 
the regenerate mind. After renouncing the world, the soul 
may find the world more amiable, and may live in it with 


a smile and a mystic doubt and one foot in eternity. Vanity 
is innocent when recognized to be vain, and is no longer 
a disgrace to the spirit. The happiness of wisdom may 
at first seem autumnal, and the shadow of the cross the 
shadow of death ; but it is healing shadow ; and presently, 
in the hollow where the cross was set, the scent of violets 
surprises us, and the crocuses peep out amongst the 
thorns. The dark background which death supplies brings 
out the tender colours of life in all their purity. Far be it 
from me to suggest that existence is the better because 
non-existence precedes and follows it ; certainly, if man 
was immortal his experience could not include tradition, 
parentage, childhood, love, nor old age ; nevertheless, from 
the point of view of both bodily and intellectual instincts 
immortality would be far better. But since, as a matter 
of fact, birth and death actually occur, and our brief 
career is surrounded by vacancy, it is far better to live in 
the light of the tragic fact, rather than to forget or deny 
it, and build everything on a fundamental lie. Death 
does not say to life that life is nothing, or does not exist, 
or is an illusion ; that would be wild talk, and would show 
that the inspiration we had drawn from death was as little 
capable of doing justice to life, as life itself is, when mindless, 
of discovering death, or learning anything from it. What 
the environing presence of death teaches is merely that 
life has such and such limits and such and such a course, 
whether it reflects on its course or not, whether it recognizes 
its limits or ignores them. Death can do nothing to our 
lives except to frame them in, to show them off with a 
broad margin of darkness and silence ; so that to live in 
the shadow of death and of the cross is to spread a large 
nimbus of peace around our littleness. 


WHAT a strange pleasure there is sometimes in seeing 
what we expected, or hearing what we knew was a fact ! 
The dream then seems really to hold together and truth 


to be positively true. The bells that announced the 
Armistice brought me no news ; a week sooner or a week 
later they had to ring. Certainly if the purpose of the 
war had been conquest or victory, nobody had achieved 
it ; but the purposes of things, and especially of wars, 
are imputed to them rhetorically, the impulses at work 
being too complicated and changeful to be easily surveyed ; 
and in this case, for the French and the English, the moving 
impulse had been defence ; they had been sustained through 
incredible trials by the awful necessity of not yielding. 
That strain had now been relaxed ; and as the conduct 
of men is determined by present forces and not by future 
advantages, they could have no heart to fight on. It 
seemed enough to them that the wanton blow had been 
parried, that the bully had begged for mercy. It was 
amusing to hear him now. He said that further bloodshed 
this time would be horrible ; his tender soul longed to 
get home safely, to call it quits, and to take a long breath 
and plan a new combination before the next bout. His 
collapse had been evident for days and months ; yet 
these bells that confirmed the fact were pleasant to hear. 
Those mean little flags, hung out here and there by private 
initiative in the streets of Oxford, had almost put on a 
look of triumph ; the very sunlight and brisk autumnal 
air seemed to have heard the tidings, and to invite the 
world to begin to live again at ease. Certainly many a 
sad figure and many a broken soul must slink henceforth 
on crutches, a mere survival ; but they, too, will die off 
gradually. The grass soon grows over a grave. 

So musing, I suddenly heard a once familiar strain, 
now long despised and out of favour, the old tune of 
Tipperary. In a coffee-house frequented at that hour 
some wounded officers from the hospital at Somerville 
were singing it, standing near the bar ; they were breaking 
all rules, both of surgeons and of epicures, and were having 
champagne in the morning. And good reason they had 
for it. They were reprieved, they should never have to 
go back to the front, their friends such as were left 
would all come home alive. Instinctively the old grumb 
ling, good-natured, sentimental song, which they used to 
sing when they first joined, came again into their minds. 


It had been indeed a long, long way to Tipperary. But 
they had trudged on and had come round full circle ; 
they were in Tipperary at last. 

I wonder what they think Tipperary means for this 
is a mystical song. Probably they are willing to leave it 
vague, as they do their notions of honour or happiness or 
heaven. Their soldiering is over ; they remember, with 
a strange proud grief, their comrades who died to make 
this day possible, hardly believing that it ever would 
come ; they are overjoyed, yet half ashamed, to be safe 
themselves ; they forget their wounds ; they see a green 
vista before them, a jolly, busy, sporting, loving life in 
the old familiar places. Everything will go on, they 
fancy, as if nothing had happened. 

Good honest unguided creatures ! They are hardly out 
of the fog of war when they are lost in the fog of peace. 
/ If experience could teach mankind anything, how different 
i our morals and our politics would be, how clear, how 
tolerant, how steady ! If we knew ourselves, our conduct 
at all times would be absolutely decided and consistent ; 
and a pervasive sense of vanity and humour would disinfect 
all our passions, if we knew the world. As it is, we live 
experimentally, moodily, in the dark ; each generation 
breaks its egg-shell with the same haste and assurance 
as the last, pecks at the same indigestible pebbles, dreams 
the same dreams, or others just as absurd, and if it hears 
anything of what former men have learned by experience, 
it corrects their maxims by its first impressions, and rushes 
down any untrodden path which it finds alluring, to die 
in its own way, or become wise too late and to no purpose. 
These young men are no rustics, they are no fools ; and 
yet they have passed through the most terrible ordeal, 
they have seen the mad heart of this world riven and un 
masked, they have had long vigils before battle, long nights 
tossing with pain, in which to meditate on the spectacle ; 
and yet they have learned nothing. The young barbarians 
want to be again at play. If it were to be only cricket or 
boating, it would be innocent enough ; but they are 
going to gamble away their lives and their country, taking 
their chances in the lottery of love and of business and 
of politics, with a sporting chance thrown in, perhaps, 


of heaven. They are going to shut out from view every 
thing except their topmost instincts and easy habits, and 
to trust to luck. Yet the poor fellows think they are 
safe ! They think that the war perhaps the last of all 
wars is over ! 

Only the dead are safe ; only the dead have seen the 
end of war. Not that non-existence deserves to be called 
peace ; it is only by an illusion of contrast and a pathetic 
fallacy that we are tempted to call it so. The church has 
a poetical and melancholy prayer, that the souls of the 
faithful departed may rest in peace. If in that sigh there 
lingers any fear that, when a tomb is disturbed, the un 
happy ghost is doomed to walk more often abroad, the 
fear is mad ; and if it merely expresses the hope that 
dead men s troubles are over, the wish is superfluous ; 
but perhaps we may gloss the old superstition, and read 
into it the rational aspiration that all souls in other spheres, 
or in the world to come upon earth, might learn to live 
at peace with God and with things. That would be some 
thing worth praying for, but I am afraid it is asking too 
much. God I mean the sum of all possible good is 
immutable ; to make our peace with him it is we, not 
he, that must change. We should need to discover, and 
to pursue singly, the happiness proper to our nature, 
including the accidents of race and sex and the very real 
advantages of growing old and of not living for ever ; 
and we should need to respect without envying all other 
forms of the good. As to the world of existence, it is 
certainly fluid, and by judicious pressure we may coax 
some parts of it into greater conformity with our wills ; 
yet it is so vast, and crawls through such ponderous, 
insidious revolutions, all so blind and so inimical to one 
another, that in order to live at peace with things we 
should need to acquire a marvellous plasticity, or a splendid 
indifference. We should have to make peace with the fact 
of war. It is the stupid obstinacy of our self-love that 
produces tragedy, and makes us angry with the world. 
Free life has the spirit of comedy. It rejoices in the 
seasonable beauty of each new thing, and laughs at its 
decay, covets no possessions, demands no agreement, and 
strives to sustain nothing in being except a gallant spirit 


of courage and truth, as each fresh adventure may re 
new it. 

This gallant spirit of courage and truth, you young 
men had it in those early days when you first sang 
Tipperary ; have you it still, I wonder, when you repeat 
the song ? Some of you, no doubt. I have seen in some 
of you the smile that makes light of pain, the sturdy 
humility that accepts mutilation and faces disability 
without repining or shame ; armless and legless men are 
still God s creatures, and even if you cannot see the sun 
you can bask in it, and there is joy on earth perhaps the 
deepest and most primitive joy even in that. But others 
of you, though you were driven to the war by contagious 
example, or by force, are natural cowards ; you are perhaps 
superior persons, intellectual snobs, and are indignant 
at having been interrupted in your important studies and 
made to do useless work. You are disgusted at the 
stupidity of all the generals, and whatever the Govern 
ment does is an outrage to your moral sense. You were 
made sick at the thought of the war before you went to 
it, and you are sicker of it now. You are pacifists, and you 
suspect that the Germans, who were not pacifists, were 
right after all. I notice you are not singing Tipperary 
this morning ; you are too angry to be glad, and you 
wish it to be understood that you can t endure such a 
vulgar air. You are willing, however, to sip your cham 
pagne with the rest ; in hospital you seem to have come 
forward a little socially ; but you find the wine too dry 
or too sweet, and you are making a wry face at it. 

Ah, my delicate friends, if the soul of a philosopher may 
venture to address you, let me whisper this counsel in your 
ears : Reserve a part of your wrath ; you have not seen 
the worst yet. You suppose that this war has been a 
criminal blunder and an exceptional horror ; you imagine 
that before long reason will prevail, and all these inferior 
people that govern the world will be swept aside, and your 
own party will reform everything and remain always in 
office. You are mistaken. This war has given you your 
first glimpse of the ancient, fundamental, normal state of 
the world, your first taste of reality. It should teach you 
to dismiss all your philosophies of progress or of a governing 


reason as the babble of dreamers who walk through one 
world mentally beholding another. I don t mean that you 
or they are fools ; heaven forbid. You have too much 
mind. It is easy to behave very much like other people 
and yet be possessed inwardly by a narcotic dream. I am 
sure the flowers and you resemble flowers yourselves, 
though a bit wilted if they speculate at all, construct 
idealisms which, like your own, express their inner sensi 
bility and their experience of the weather, without much 
resemblance to the world at large. Their thoughts, like 
yours, are all positings and deductions and asseverations 
of what ought to be, whilst the calm truth is marching on 
unheeded outside. No great harm ensues, because the 
flowers are rooted in their places and adjusted to the 
prevailing climate. It doesn t matter what they think. 
You, too, in your lodgings in Chelsea, quite as in Lhassa or 
in Mount Athos, may live and die happy in your painted 
cells. It is the primitive and the ultimate office of the 
mind to supply such a sanctuary. But if you are ever 
driven again into the open, if the course of events should 
be so rapid, that you could catch the drift of it in your 
short life (since you despise tradition), then you must 
prepare for a ruder shock. There is eternal war in nature, 
a war in which every cause is ultimately lost and every 
nation destroyed. War is but resisted change ; and change 
must needs be resisted so long as the organism it would 
destroy retains any vitality. Peace itself means discipline 
at home and invulnerability abroad two forms of perma 
nent virtual war ; peace requires so vigorous an internal 
regimen that every germ of dissolution or infection 
shall be repelled before it reaches the public soul. This 
war has been a short one, and its ravages slight in 
comparison with what remains standing : a severe war is 
one in which the entire manhood of a nation is destroyed, 
its cities razed, and its women and children driven into 
slavery. In this instance the slaughter has been greater, 
perhaps, only because modern populations are so enormous ; 
the disturbance has been acute only because the modern 
industrial system is so dangerously complex and unstable ; 
and the expense seems prodigious because we were so 
extravagantly rich. Our society was a sleepy glutton who 


thought himself immortal and squealed inexpressibly, like 
a stuck pig, at the first prick of the sword. An ancient city 
would have thought this war, or one relatively as costly, 
only a normal incident ; and certainly the Germans will 
not regard it otherwise. 

Existence, being a perpetual generation, involves as 
piration, and its aspiration envelops it in an atmosphere 
of light, the joy and the beauty of being, which is the living 
heaven ; but for the same reason existence, in its texture, 
involves a perpetual and a living hell the conflict and 
mutual hatred of its parts, each endeavouring to devour , 
its neighbour s substance in the vain effort to live for ever. / 
Now, the greater part of most men s souls dwells in this 
hell, and ends there. One of their chief torments is the 
desire to live without dying continual death being a part 
of the only possible and happy life. We wish to exist 
materially, and yet resent the plastic stress, the very force 
of material being, which is daily creating and destroying 
us. Certainly war is hell, as you, my fair friends, are fond 
of repeating ; but so is rebellion against war. To live well 
you must be victorious. It is with war as with the passion 
of love, which is a war of another kind : war at first against 
the beloved for favour and possession ; war afterwards 
against the rest of the world for the beloved s sake. Often 
love, too, is a torment and shameful ; but it has its laughing 
triumphs, and the attempt to eliminate it is a worse torture, 
and more degrading. When was a coward at peace ? 
Homer, who was a poet of war, did not disguise its horrors 
nor its havoc, but he knew it was the shield of such happiness 
as is possible on earth. If Hector had not scoured the plain 
in his chariot, Paris could not have piped upon the slopes 
of Ida, nor sported with his sheep and his goddesses upon 
the green. The merchants of Crete or Phoenicia could not 
have drawn up their black keels upon the beach, if the high 
walls of Ilium had not cast their protecting shadow on their 
bales of merchandise, their bags of coin, and their noisy 
bargaining. When Hector was no more and the walls were 
a heap of dust, all the uses of peace vanished also : ruin 
and utter meanness came to inhabit that land, and still 
inhabit it. Nor is war, which makes peace possible, without 
occasions in which a free spirit, not too much attached to 


existence, may come into its own. Homer shows us how 
his heroes could gather even from battle a certain harvest 
of tenderness and nobility, and how above their heads, half 
seen through the clouds of dust and of pain, flew the winged 
chariots of the gods, and music mingled with their banquet. 
Be sad if you will, there is always reason for sadness, 
since the good which the world brings forth is so fugitive 
and bought at so great a price ; but be brave. If you 
think happiness worth enjoying, think it worth defending. 
Nothing you can lose by dying is half so precious as the 
readiness to die, which is man s charter of nobility ; life 
would not be worth having without the freedom of soul and 
the friendship with nature which that readiness brings. 
The things we know and love on earth are, and should be, 
transitory ; they are, as were the things celebrated by 
Homer, at best the song or oracle by which heaven is 
revealed in our time. We must pass with them into eternity, 
not in the end only but continually, as a phrase passes into 
its meaning ; and since they are part of us and we of them, 
we should accompany them with a good grace : it would 
be desolation to survive. The eternal is always present, 
as the flux of time in one sense never is, since it is all 
either past or future ; but this elusive existence in passing 
sets before the spirit essences in which spirit rests, and 
which can never vary ; as a dramatic poet creates a 
character which many an actor afterwards on many a 
night may try to enact. Of course the flux of matter 
carries the poets away too ; they become old-fashioned, 
and nobody wishes any longer to play their characters ; 
but each age has its own gods. Time is like an enterprising 
manager always bent on staging some new and surprising 
production, without knowing very well what it will be. 
Our good mother Psyche, who is a convolution of this 
material flux, breeds us accordingly to mindlessness and 
anxiety, out of which it is hard for our youthful intellect 
to wean itself to peace, by escaping into the essential 
eternity of everything it sees and loves. So long as the 
world goes round we shall see Tipperary only, as it were, 
out of the window of our troop-train. Your heart and 
mine may remain there, but it s a long, long way that the 
world has to go. 



THERE is a poet in every nice Englishman ; there is a 
little fund of free vitality deep down in him which the 
exigencies of his life do not tap and which no art at his 
command can render articulate. He is able to draw upon 
it, and to drink in the refreshment and joy of inner freedom, 
only in silent or religious moments. He feels he is never 
so much himself as when he has shed for the time being 
all his ordinary preoccupations. That is why his religion 
is so thin or (as he might say) so pure : it has no relevance 
to any particular passions or events ; a featureless back 
ground, distant and restful, like a pale clear sky. That is 
why he loves nature, and country life, and hates towns and 
vulgar people ; those he likes he conceives emasculated, 
sentimentalized, and robed in white. The silent poet 
within him is only a lyric poet. When he returns from 
those draughts of rare and abstract happiness, he would 
find it hard to reconcile himself to the world, or to himself, 
did he not view both through a veil of convention and 
make-believe ; he could not be honest about himself and 
retain his self-respect ; he could not be clear about other 
people and remain kind. Yet to be kind to all, and true 
to his inner man, is his profound desire ; because even if 
life, in its unvarnished truth, is a gross medley and a cruel 
business, it is redeemed for him, nevertheless, by the perfect 
beauty of soul that here and there may shine through it. 
Hamlet is the classic version of this imprisoned spirit ; the 
skylark seems a symbol of what it would be in its freedom. 
Poor larks ! Is the proportion of dull matter in their 
bodies, I wonder, really less than in ours ? Must they not 
find food and rear their young ? Must they not in their 
measure work, watch, and tremble ? Cold, hunger, and 
disease probably beset them more often and more bitterly 
than they do most of us. But we think of them selfishly, 
as of actors on the stage, only in the character they wear 
when they attract our attention. As we walk through the 
fields we stop to watch and to listen to them performing in 
the sky, and never think of their home troubles ; which 


they, too, seem for the moment to have eluded ; at least 
they have energy and time enough left over from those 
troubles for all this luxury of song. It is this glorious if 
temporary emancipation, this absolute defiant emphasis 
laid with so much sweetness on the inner life that the poet 
in every nice Englishman loves in the lark ; it seems to 
reveal a brother-spirit more fortunate than oneself, almost 
a master and a guide. 

Larks made even Shelley envious, although no man 
ever had less reason to envy them for their gift, either in 
its rapture or in its abstraction. Even the outer circum 
stances of Shelley s life were very favourable to inspiration 
and left him free to warble as much and as ardently as he 
chose ; but perhaps he was somewhat deceived by the 
pathos of distance and fancied that in Nephelococcygia 
bad birds and wicked traditions were less tyrannous than 
in parliamentary England. He seems to have thought that 
human nature was not really made for puddings and port 
wine and hunting and elections, nor even for rollicking at 
universities and reading Greek, but only for innocent 
lyrical ecstasies and fiery convictions that nevertheless 
should somehow not render people covetous or jealous or 
cruelly disposed, nor constrain them to prevent any one 
from doing anything that any one might choose to do. 
Perhaps in truth the cloisters of Oxford and the streets of 
London are quite as propitious to the flights of which 
human nature is really capable as English fields are to the 
flights of larks ; there is food in them for thought. But 
j Shelley was impatient of human nature ; he was horrified 
to find that society is a web of merciless ambitions and 
jealousies, mitigated by a quite subsidiary kindness ; he 
forgot that human life is precarious and that its only 
weapon against circumstances, and against rival men, is 
intelligent action, intelligent war. The case is not other 
wise with larks, on the fundamental earthly side of their 
existence ; yet because their flight is bodily, because it is 
a festive outpouring of animal vitality, not of art or 
reflection, it suggests to us a total freedom of the inner 
man, a freedom which is impossible. 

In the flight of larks, however, by a rare favour of 
fortune, all seems to be spontaneity, courage, and trust, 


even within this material sphere ; nothing seems to be 
adjustment or observation. Their life in the air is a sort 
of intoxication of innocence and happiness in the blind 
pulses of existence. They are voices of the morning, 
young hearts seeking experience and not remembering 
it ; when they seem to sob they are only catching their 
breath. They spring from the ground as impetuously 
as a rocket or the jet of a fountain, that bursts into a 
shower of sparks or of dew-drops ; they circle as they rise, 
soaring through veil after veil of luminous air, or dropping 
from level to level. Their song is like the gurgling of 
little rills of water, perpetual through its delicate variations, 
and throbbing with a changed volume at every change in 
the breeze. Their rapture seems to us seraphic, not merely 
because it descends to us invisibly from a luminous height, 
straining our eyes and necks in itself a cheap sublimity 
but rather because the lark sings so absolutely for the mad 
sake of singing. He is evidently making high holiday, 
spending his whole strength on something ultimate and 
utterly useless, a momentary entrancing pleasure which 
(being useless and ultimate) is very like an act of worship 
or of sacrifice. Sheer life in him has become pure. That 
is what we envy ; that is what causes us, as we listen, to 
draw a deeper breath, and perhaps something like tears to 
come to our eyes. He seems so triumphantly to attain 
what all our labours end by missing, yet what alone would 
justify them : happiness, selflessness, a moment of life 
lived in the spirit. And we may be tempted to say to 
ourselves : Ah, if I could only forget, if I could cease to 
look before and after, if the pale cast of thought did not 
make a slave of me, as well as a coward ! 

Vital raptures such as the lark s are indeed not unknown 
even to man, and the suggestion of them powerfully allures 
the Englishman, being as he is a youth morally, still 
impelled to sport, still confident of carrying his whole 
self forward into some sort of heaven, whether in love, 
in politics, or in religion, without resigning to nature the 
things that are nature s nor hiding in God the things that 
are God s. Alas, a sad lesson awaits him, if he ever grows 
old enough to learn it. Vital raptures, unless long training 
or a miracle of adaptation has antecedently harmonized 


them with the whole orchestration of nature, necessarily 
come to a bad end. Dancing and singing and love and 
sport and religious enthusiasm are mighty ferments : 
happy he who vents them in their season. But if ever 
they are turned into duties, pumped up by force, or made 
the basis of anything serious, like morals or science, they 
become vicious. The wild breath of inspiration is gone 
which hurried them across the soul like a bright cloud. 
Inspiration, as we may read in Plato between the lines, 
inspiration is animal. It comes from the depths, from that 
hearth of Hestia, the Earth-Mother, which conservative 
pagans could not help venerating as divine. Only art 
and reason, however, are divine in a moral sense, not 
because they are less natural than inspiration (for the 
Earth-Mother with her seeds and vapours is the root of 
everything) but because they mount towards the ultimate 
heaven of order, beauty, intellectual light, and the achieve 
ment of eternal dignities. In that dimension of being 
even featherless bipeds can soar and sing with a good 
grace. But space is not their element ; airmen, now 
that we have them, are only a new sort of sailor. They 
fly for the sake of danger and of high wages ; it is a boyish 
art, with its romantic glamour soon tarnished, and only a 
material reward left for all its skill and hardships. The 
only sublimity possible to man is intellectual ; when he 
1 would be sublime in any other dimension he is merely 
fatuous and bombastic. By intelligence, so far as he 
possesses it, a man sees things as they are, transcends 
his senses and his passions, uproots himself from his casual 
station in space and time, sees all things future as if they 
were past, and all things past as for ever present, at once 
condemns and forgives himself, renounces the world and 
loves it. Having this inner avenue open to divinity, he 
would be a fool to emulate the larks in their kind of ecstasy. 
His wings are his intelligence ; not that they bring ulti 
mate success to his animal will, which must end in failure, 
but that they lift his failure itself into an atmosphere of 
laughter and light, where is his proper happiness. He 
cannot take his fine flight, like the lark, in the morning, 
in mad youth, in some irresponsible burst of vitality, 
because life is impatient to begin : that sort of thing is 


the fluttering of a caged bird, a rebellion against circum 
stance and against commonness which is a sign of spirit, 
but not spirit in its self-possession, not happiness nor a 
school of happiness. The thought which crowns life at 
its summit can accompany it throughout its course, and 
can reconcile us to its issue. Intelligence is Homeric in 
its pervasive light. It traces all the business of nature, 
eluding but not disturbing it, rendering it in fact more 
amiable than it is, and rescuing it from vanity. 

Sense is like a lively child always at our elbow, saying, 
Look, look, what is that ? Will is like an orator, indignantly 
demanding something different. History and fiction and 
religion are like poets, continually recomposing the facts 
into some tragic unity which is not in them. All these 
forms of mind are spiritual, and therefore materially 
superfluous and free ; but their spirit is pious, it is attentive 
to its sources, and therefore seems to be care-laden and 
not so gloriously emancipated as the music of larks, or 
even of human musicians ; yet thought is pure music in 
its essence, and only in its subject-matter retrospective 
and troubled about the facts. It must indeed be troubled 
about them, because in man spirit is not a mere truant, 
as it seems to be in the lark, but is a faithful chronicler of 
labour and wisdom. Man is hard-pressed ; long truancies 
would be fatal to him. He is tempted to indulge in them 
witness his languages and pyramids and mythologies ; 
yet his margin of safety is comparatively narrow, and he 
cannot afford to spend such relatively prodigious amounts 
of energy in mere play as the lark does with a light heart 
and in the grand manner. There are words to man s 
music ; he gives names to things ; he tries to catch the 
rhythm of his own story, or to imagine it richer and more 
sublime than it is. His festivals are heavy with pathos ; 
they mark the events on which his existence turns 
harvests, funerals, redemptions, wooings, and wars,, 
When he disregards all these tiresome things, he becomes 
a fop or a fanatic. There is no worthy transport for him 
except sane philosophy a commentary, not a dream. 
His intelligence is most intense and triumphant when 
there is least waste in his life ; for if hard thinking some 
times makes the head ache, it is because it comes hard, 


not because it is thinking ; our fuddled brain grates and 
repeats itself in that it can t think. But if your business 
is in order, it requires no further pains to understand it. 
Intelligence is the flower of war and the flower of love. 
Both, in the end, are comprehension. How miraculously 
in our happy moments we understand, how far we jump, 
what masses of facts we dominate at a glance ! There is 
no labour then, no friction or groping, no anxious jostling 
against what we do not know, but only joy in this intricate 
outspread humorous world, intoxication as ethereal as the 
lark s, but more descriptive. If his song is raised above 
the world for a moment by its wantonness and idle rapture, 
ours is raised above it essentially by its scope. To look 
before and after is human ; it would not be sincere nor 
manly in us not to take thought for the morrow and not to 
pine for what is not. We must start on that basis, with 
our human vitality (which is art) substituted for the 
vegetative prayerfulness of the lily, and our human scope 
(which is knowledge of the world) substituted for the 
outpourings of larks. 

On this other plane we could easily be as happy as the 
larks, if we were as liberal. Men when they are civilized 
and at ease are liberal enough in their sports, and willing 
to desipere in loco, like kittens, but it is strange how 
barbarous and illiberal, at least in modern times, they 
have remained about thought. They wish to harness 
thought like a waterfall, or like the blind Samson, to 
work for them night and day, in the treadmill of their 
interests or of their orthodoxy. Fie upon their stupidity 
and upon their slavishness ! They do not see that when 
nature, with much travail, brings something living to 
birth, inevitable thought is there already, and gratis, 
and cannot possibly be there before. The seething of the 
brain is indeed as pragmatic as the habit of singing and 
flying, which in its inception doubtless helped the larks to 
survive, as even the whiteness of the lily may have done 
through the ministry of insects which it attracted ; but 
even material organs are bound to utility by a very loose 
tie. Nature does not shake off her baroque ornaments 
and her vices until they prove fatal, and she never thinks 
of the most obvious invention or pressing reform, until 


some complication brings her, she knows not how, to try 
the experiment. Nature, having no ulterior purpose, has 
no need of parsimony or haste or simplicity. Much less 
need she be niggardly of spirit, which lays no tax upon 
her, and consumes no energy, but laughs aloud, a marvel 
and a mystery to her, in her very heart. All animal 
functions, whether helpful or wasteful, have this fourth 
dimension in the realm of spirit the joy, or the pain, or 
the beauty that may be found in them. Spirit loads with 
a lyric intensity the flying moment in which it lives. It 
actually paints the lily and casts a perfume on the violet ; 
it turns into vivid presences a thousand forms which, 
until its flame lighted them up, were merged in the passive 
order and truth of things, like the charms of Lucy by the 
springs of Dove, before Wordsworth discovered them. 
The smile of nature is not ponderable ; and the changing 
harmonies of nature, out of which spirit springs, are like 
the conjunctions or eclipses of planets, facts obvious 
enough to sense in their specious simplicity, yet materially 
only momentary positions of transit for wayfarers bound 
each on his own errand. The songs of larks are like shooting 
stars that drop downwards and vanish ; human intelligence 
is a part of the steadier music of the spheres. 


SKYLARKS, if they exist elsewhere, must be homesick for 
England. They need these kindly mists to hide and to 
sustain them. Their flexible throats would soon be 
parched, far from these vaporous meadows and hedgerows 
rich in berries and loam. How should they live in arid 
tablelands, or at merciless altitudes, where there is nothing 
but scorching heat or a freezing blizzard ? What space 
could they find for solitude and freedom in the tangle 
of tropical forests, amongst the monkeys and parrots ? 
What reserve, what tenderness, what inward springs of 
happiness could they treasure amid those gross harlot-like 
flowers ? No, they are the hermits of this mild atmosphere, 
fled to its wilderness of gentle light. Well may they leave 



it to eagles to rush against the naked sun, as if its round 
eye challenged them to single combat : not theirs the stupid 
ferocity of passion against fact, anger against light, swift 
ness against poise, beak and talons against intangible fire. 
Larks may not be very clever, but they are not so foolish 
as to be proud, or to scream hoarsely against the nature 
of things. Having wings and voluble throats they play 
with them for pure pleasure ; they are little artists and little 
gentlemen ; they disdain to employ their faculties for their 
mere utility, or only in order to pounce down to the earth, 
whenever they spy a dainty morsel, or to return to sulk 
shivering on some solitary crag, their voracity but half 
appeased, like eagles dreaming of their next victim. Of 
course, even the most playful songster must eat, and 
skylarks no doubt keep an eye open for worms, and their 
nest calls them back to terrene affections ; but they are as 
forgetful of earth as they can be, and insatiable craving 
does not stamp itself on their bent necks, as if they were 
vultures, nor strain their feathers of iron. No more are 
they inspired by sentimental pangs and love-sick like the 
nightingale ; they do not hide in the labyrinthine shade 
of ilex or cypress, from there to wail in the melancholy 
moonlight, as it were a seductive serenade addressed to 
mortal lovers. No, the trilling of larks is not for mankind. 
Like English poets they sing to themselves of nature, in 
articulately happy in a bath of light and freedom, sporting 
for the sake of sport, turning what doubts they may have 
into sweetness, not asking to see or to know anything 
ulterior. They must needs drink the dew amongst these 
English fields, peeping into the dark little hearts and 
flushed petals of these daisies, like the heart and cheeks 
of an English child, or into these buttercups, yellow like 
his Saxon hair. They could hardly have built their nests 
far from this maze of little streams, or from these narrow 
dykes and ditches, arched with the scented tracery of 
limes and willows. They needed this long, dull, chilly 
winter in which to gather their unsuspected fund of yearn 
ing and readiness for joy ; so that when high summer 
comes at last they may mount with virgin confidence and 
ardour through these sunlit spaces, to pour their souls out 
at heaven s gate. 


At heaven s gate, but not in heaven. The sky, as these 
larks rise higher and higher, grows colder and thinner ; 
if they could rise high enough, it would be a black void. 
All this fluid and dazzling atmosphere is but the drapery 
of earth ; this cerulean vault is only a film round the 
oceans. As these choristers pass beyond the nether veils 
of air, the sun becomes fierce and comfortless ; they 
freeze and are dazzled ; they must hurry home again to 
earth if they would live. They must put fuel in their 
little engines : after all it was flesh and blood in them that 
were praising the Lord. And accordingly, down they 
drop to their nests and peck about, anxious and silent ; 
but their song never comes down. Up there they leave 
it, in the glittering desert it once ravished, in what we 
call the past. They bore their glad offering to the gate 
and returned empty ; but the gladness of it, which in their 
palpitation and hurry they only half guessed, passed in 
and is a part of heaven. In the home of all good, from 
which their frail souls fetched it for a moment, it is 
still audible for any ear that ever again can attune 
itself to that measure. All that was loved or beautiful 
at any time, or that shall be so hereafter, all that 
never was but that ought to have been, lives in that 
paradise, in the brilliant treasure-house of the gods. 

How many an English spirit, too modest to be heard 
here, has now committed its secret to that same heaven ! 
Caught by the impulse of the hour, they rose like larks in 
the morning, cheerily, rashly, to meet the unforeseen, 
fatal, congenial adventure, the goal not seen, the air not 
measured, but the firm heart steady through the fog or 
blinding fire, making the best of what came, trembling 
but ready for what might come, with a simple courage 
which was half joy in living and half willingness to die. 
Their first flight was often their last. What fell to earth 
was only a poor dead body, one of a million ; what 
remained above perhaps nothing to speak of, some boyish 
sally or wistful fancy, less than the song of a lark for God 
to treasure up in his omniscience and eternity. Yet these 
common brave fools knew as well as the lark the thing that 
they could do, and did it ; and of other gifts and other 
adventures they were not envious. Boys and free men are 


always a little inclined to flout what is not the goal of their 
present desires, or is beyond their present scope ; spontaneity 
in them has its ebb -flow in mockery. Their tight little 
selves are too vigorous and too clearly determined to 
brood much upon distant things ; but they are true to 
their own nature, they know and love the sources of their 
own strength. Like the larks, those English boys had drunk 
here the quintessence of many a sunlit morning ; they 
had rambled through these same fields, fringed with hedges 
and peeping copse and downs purple with heather ; these 
paths and streams had enticed them often ; they had been 
vaguely happy in these quiet, habitable places. It was 
enough for them to live, as for nature to revolve ; and 
fate, in draining in one draught the modest cup of their 
spirit, spared them the weary dilution and waste of it in 
the world. The length of things is vanity, only their 
height is joy. 

Of myself also I would keep nothing but what God may 
keep of me some lovely essence, mine for a moment in 
that I beheld it, some object of devout love enshrined where 
all other hearts that have a like intelligence of love in their 
day may worship it ; but my loves themselves and my 
reasonings are but a flutter of feathers weaker than a 
lark s, a prattle idler than his warblings, happy enough if 
they too may fly with him and die with him at the gate of 






solitudo, sola beatitudo, Saint Bernard said ; but might 
he not have said just as well, societas, sola felicitas ? 
Just as truly, I think ; because when a man says that the 
only happiness is this or that, he is like a lover saying 
that Mary Jane is the one woman in the world. She may 
be truly the one woman for him, though even that is not 
probable ; but he cannot mean to assert that she is the 
only woman living, nor to deny that each of the others 
might be the one woman for somebody. Now, when a 
Hegelian philosopher, contradicting Saint Bernard, says 
that society is his be-all and end-all, that he himself is 
nothing but an invisible point at which relations cross, 
and that if you removed from him his connection with 
Hegel, with his university, his church, his wife, and his 
publishers, there would be nothing left, or at best a name 
and a peg to hang a gown on, far be it from me to revise 
his own analysis of his nature ; society may be the only 
felicity and the only reality for him. But that cannot 
annul the judgement of Saint Bernard. He had a great 
mind and a great heart, and he knew society well ; at 
least, he accepted the verdict which antiquity had passed 
on society, after a very long, brilliant, and hearty experience 
of it ; and he knew the religious life and solitude as well ; 
and I can t help thinking that he, too, must have been 
right in his self-knowledge, and that solitude must have 
been the only happiness for him. 

Nevertheless, the matter is not limited to this confronting 
of divers honest judgements, or confessions of moral 
experience. The natures expressed in these judgements 
have a long history, and are on different levels ; the one 



may be derived from the other. Thus it is evident that the 
beatific solitude of Saint Bernard was filled with a kind of 
society ; he devoted it to communion with the Trinity, or 
to composing fervent compliments to the Virgin Mary. It 
was only the society to be found in inns and hovels, in 
castles, sacristies, and refectories, that he thought it 
happiness to avoid. That the wilderness to which hermits 
flee must be peopled by their fancy, could have been 
foreseen by any observer of human nature. Tormenting 
demons or ministering angels must needs appear, because 
man is rooted in society and his instincts are addressed to 
it ; for the first nine months, or even years, of his existence 
he is a parasite ; and scarcely are these parental bonds a 
little relaxed, when he instinctively forms other ties, that 
turn him into_ a husband and father, and keep him such 
all his days, j If ever he finds happiness in solitude, it can 
only be by lavishing on objects of his imagination the 
attentions which his social functions require that he should 
lavish on something. Without exercising these faculties 
somehow his nature would be paralysed ; there would be 
no fuel to feed a spiritual flame. All Saint Bernard could 
mean, then, is that happiness lies in this substitution of 
an ideal for a natural society, in converse with thoughts 
rather than with things. Such a substitution is normal, 
and a mark of moral vigour ; we must not be misled into 
comparing it with a love of dolls or of lap-dogs. Dolls are 
not impersonal, and lap-dogs are not ideas : they are only 
less rebellious specimens of the genus thing ; they are 
more portable idols. To substitute the society of ideas 
for that of things is simply to live in the mind ; it is to 
survey the world of existences in its truth and beauty 
rather than in its personal perspectives, or with practical 
urgency. It is the sole path to happiness for the intellectual 
man, because the intellectual man cannot be satisfied with 
a world of perpetual change, defeat, and imperfection.? It 
is the path trodden by ancient philosophers and modern 
saints or poets ; not, of course, by modern writers on philo 
sophy (except Spinoza), because these have not been 
philosophers in the vital sense ; they have practised no 
spiritual discipline, suffered no change of heart, but lived 
on exactly like other professors, and exerted themselves 


to prove the existence of a God favourable to their own 
desires, instead of searching for the God that happens to 
exist. Certainly this path, in its beginnings, is arduous, 
and leaves the natural man somewhat spare and haggard ; 
he seems to himself to have fasted for forty days and forty 
nights, and the world regards his way of living afterwards 
as rather ghostly and poor. But he usually congratulates 
himself upon it in the end ; and of those who persevere 
some become saints and some poets and some philosophers. 

Yet why, we may ask, should happiness be found 
exclusively in this ideal society where none intrudes ? 
If the intellectual man cannot lay up his treasures in a 
world of change, the natural man can perfectly well 
satisfy his instincts within it ; and why shouldn t the 
two live amicably together in a house of two stories ? 
I can see no essential reason ; but historically natural 
society long ago proved a moral failure. It could not 
harmonize nor decently satisfy even the instincts on which 
it rests. Hence the philosophers have felt bound not only 
to build themselves a superstructure but to quit the 
ground floor materially, if possible, by leading a monastic 
life, religiously in any case by not expecting to find much 
except weeping and wailing in this vale of tears. We may 
tax this despair with being premature, and call such a 
flight into an imaginary world a desperate expedient ; 
at any time the attempts of the natural man to live his 
comic life happily may be renewed, and may succeed. 
Solitude peopled with ideas might still remain to employ 
the mind ; but it would not be the only beatitude. 

Yet the insecurity of natural society runs deeper, for 
natural society itself is an expedient and a sort of refuge 
of despair. It, too, in its inception, seemed a sacrifice and 
a censtraint. The primitive soul hates order and the 
happiness founded on order. The barbarous soul hates 
justice and peace. The belly is always rebelling against 
the members. The belly was once all in all ; it was a 
single cell floating deliriously in a warm liquid ; it had 
no outer organs ; it thought it didn t need them. It 
vegetated in peace ; no noises, no alarms, no lusts, no 
nonsense. Ah, veritably solitude was blessedness then ! 
But it was a specious solitude and a precarious blessedness, 


resting on ignorance. The warm liquid might cool, or might 
dry up ; it might breed all sorts of enemies ; presently 
heaven might crack and the cell be cleft in two. Happy 
the hooded microbe that put forth feelers in time, and 
awoke to its social or unsocial environment ! I am not 
sure that, beneath the love of ideal society, there was not 
in Saint Bernard j a lingering love of primeval peace, of 
seminal slumber ; that he did not yearn for the cell bio 
logical as well as for the cell monastic. Life, mere living, 
is a profound ideal, pregnant with the memory of a possible 
happiness, the happiness of protoplasmj; and the advocate 
of moral society must not reckon without his host. He has 
a rebellious material in hand ; his every atom is instinct 
with a life of its own which it may reassert, upsetting his 
calculations and destroying his organic systems. Only the 
physical failure of solitude drove the spirit at first into 
society, as the moral failure of society may drive it later 
into solitude again. If any one said, then, that happiness 
lies only in society, his maxim would be no less sincere and 
solid than Saint Bernard s, but it would not be so profound. 
For beneath natural society, in the heart of each of its 
members, there is always an intense and jealous solitude, 
the sleep of elemental life which can never be wholly broken ; 
and above natural society there is always another solitude 
a placid ethereal wilderness, the heaven of ideas 
beckoning the mind. 


| MEN are ruled by imagination : imagination makes them 
into men, capable of madness and of immense labours. 
We work dreaming, j Consider what dreams must have 
dominated the builders of the Pyramids dreams geometri 
cal, dreams funereal, dreams of resurrection, dreams of 
outdoing the pyramid of some other Pharaoh ! What 
dreams occupy that fat man in the street, toddling by 
under his shabby hat and bedraggled rain-coat ? Perhaps 
he is in love ; perhaps he is a Catholic, and imagines 
that early this morning he has partaken of the body and 


blood of Christ ; perhaps he is a revolutionist, with the 
millennium in his heart and a bomb in his pocket. The 
spirit bloweth where it listeth ; the wind of inspiration 
carries our dreams before it and constantly refashions them 
like clouds. Nothing could be madder, more irresponsible, 
more dangerous than this guidance of men by dreams. 
What saves us is the fact that our imaginations, groundless 
and chimerical as they may seem, are secretly suggested 
and controlled by shrewd old instincts of our animal 
nature, and by continual contact with things. The shock 
of sense, breaking in upon us with a fresh irresistible image, 
checks wayward imagination and sends it rebounding in a 
new direction, perhaps more relevant to what is happening 
in the world outside. 

When I speak of being governed by imagination, of 
course I am indulging in a figure of speech, in an ellipsis ; 
in reality we are governed by that perpetual latent process 
within us by which imagination itself is created. Actual 
imaginings the cloud-like thoughts drifting by are not 
masters over themselves nor over anything else. They are 
like the sound of chimes in the night ; they know nothing 
of whence they came, how they will fall out, or how long 
they will ring. There is a mechanism in the church tower ; 
there was a theme in the composer s head ; there is a 
beadle who has been winding the thing up. jThe sound 
wafted to us, muffled by distance and a thousand obstacles, 
is but the last lost emanation of this magical bell-ringing. | 
Yet in our dream it is all in all ; it is what first entertains 
and absorbs the mind. Imagination, when it chimes within 
us, apparently of itself, is no less elaborately grounded ; it 
is a last symptom, a rolling echo, by which we detect and 
name the obscure operation that occasions it ; and not 
this echo in its aesthetic impotence, but the whole operation 
whose last witness it is, receives in science the name of 
imagination, and may be truly said to rule the human world. 

This extension of names is inevitable although unfortu 
nate, because language and perception are poetical before 
they become scientific, if they ever do ; as Aristotle 
observes that the word anger is used indifferently for two 
different things : dialectically, or as I call it, imaginatively, 
for the desire for revenge, but physically for a boiling of 


the humours. And utterly different as these two things 
are in quality, no great inconvenience results from giving 
them the same name, because historically they are parts 
of the same event. Nature has many dimensions at once, 
and whenever we see anything happen, much else is happen 
ing there which we cannot see. Whilst dreams entertain us, 
the balance of our character is shifting beneath : we are 
growing while we sleep. The young think in one way, the 
drunken in another, and the dead not at all ; and I 
imagine for I have imagination myself that they do not 
die because they stop thinking, but they stop thinking 
because they die. How much veering and luffing before 
they make that port ! JThe brain of man, William James 
used to say, has a hair-trigger organization. His life is 
terribly experimental. He is perilously dependent on the 
oscillations of a living^ needle, imagination, that never 
points to the true north] 

There are books in which the footnotes, or the comments 
scrawled by some reader s hand in the margin, are more 
interesting than the text. The world is one of these books. 
The reciprocal interference of magnetic fields (which I 
understand is the latest conception of matter) may compose 
a marvellous moving pattern ; but the chief interest to us 
of matter lies in its fertility in producing minds and present 
ing recognizable phenomena to the senses ; and the chief 
interest of any scientific notion of its intrinsic nature lies 
in the fact that, if not literally true, it may liberate us from 
more misleading conceptions. Did we have nothing but 
electrical physics to think of, the nightmare would soon 
become intolerable. But a hint of that kind, like a hasty 
glance into the crater of a volcano, sends a wholesome 
shudder through our nerves ; we realize how thin is the 
crust we build on, how mythical and remote from the 
minute and gigantic scale of nature are the bright images 
we seem to move among, all cut out and fitted to our 
human stature. Yet these bright images are our natural 
companions, and if we do not worship them idolatrously 
nor petrify them into substances, forgetting the nimble 
use of them in mental discourse, which is where they 
belong, they need not be more misleading to us, even for 
scientific purposes, than are words or any other symbols. 


It is fortunate that the material world, whatever may 
be its intrinsic structure or substance, falls to our appre 
hension into such charming units. There is the blue vault 
of heaven, there are the twinkling constellations, there are 
the mountains, trees, and rivers, and above all those 
fascinating unstable unities which we call animals and 
persons ; magnetic fields I am quite ready to believe them, 
for such in a vast vague way I feel them to be, but 
individual bodies they will remain to my sensuous imagina 
tion, and dramatic personages to my moral sense. They, 
too, are animate : they, too, compose a running commentary 
on things and on one another, adding their salacious 
footnotes to the dull black letter of the world. Many of 
them are hardly aware of their own wit ; knowing they 
are but commentators, they are intent on fidelity and 
unconscious of invention. Yet against their will they gloss 
everything, willy-nilly we are all scholiasts together. 
Heaven forbid that I should depreciate this prodigious 
tome of nature, or question in one jot or tittle the absolute 
authority of its Author ; but it is like an encyclopaedia in 
an infinite number of volumes, or a directory with the 
addresses of everybody that ever lived. We may dip into 
it on occasion in search of some pertinent fact, but it is 
not a book to read ; its wealth is infinite, but so is its 
monotony ; it is not composed in our style nor in our 
language, we could not have written one line of it. Yet 
the briefest text invites reflection, and we may spin a little 
homily out of it in the vernacular for our own edification. 

In the Mahabharata, a learned friend tells me, a young 
champion armed for the combat and about to rush forward 
between the two armies drawn up in battle array, stops for 
a moment to receive a word of counsel from his spiritual 
adviser and that word occupies the next eighteen books 
of the epic ; after which the battle is allowed to proceed. 
These Indian poets had spiritual minds, they measured 
things by their importance to the spirit, not to the eye. 
They despised verisimilitude and aesthetic proportion ; 
they despised existence, the beauties of which they felt 
exquisitely nevertheless, and to which their imagination 
made such stupendous additions. I honour their courage 
in bidding the sun stand still, not that they might 


thoroughly vanquish an earthly enemy, but that they 
might wholly clarify their own soul. For this better 
purpose the sun need not stand still materially. For the 
spirit, time is an elastic thing. Fancy is quick and brings 
the widest vistas to a focus in a single instant. After the 
longest interval of oblivion and death, it can light up the 
same image in all the greenness of youth ; and if cut short, 
as it were at Pompeii, in the midst of a word, it can, 
ages after, without feeling the break, add the last syllable. 
Imagination changes the scale of everything, and makes a 
thousand patterns of the woof of nature, without disturbing 
a single thread. Or rather since it is nature itself that 
imagines it turns to music what was only strain ; as if 
the universal vibration, suddenly ashamed of having been 
so long silent and useless, had burst into tears and laughter 
at its own folly, and in so doing had become wise. 


NATURE, like a theatre, offers a double object to the mind. 
There is in the first place the play presented, the overt 
spectacle, which is something specious and ideal ; and 
then there is something material and profound lying 
behind and only symbolically revealed, namely, the stage, 
the actors, and the author. The playful spectacular sort 
of reality we can pretty well dominate and exhaust, if we 
are attentive ; indeed the prospect, in its sensuous and 
poetic essence, is plastic to attention, and alters its 
character according to the spectator s station and faculty ; 
a poetic theme develops as interest in it is aroused, and 
offers different beauties and different morals to every 
new critic. The instrumentalities, on the contrary, which 
bring this spectacle before us, whether they be material 
or personal, are unfathomable. They are events, not 
ideas. Even putting together all that carpenters and 
chemists, biographers and psychologists, might learn about 
these events, we could never probe them to the bottom. 
In the beginning, as for a child at his first pantomime, 


the play s the thing ; and a human audience can never 
quite outgrow this initial illusion, since this world is a 
theatre nobody can visit twice. If we could become 
habitues, old theatre-goers amongst the worlds, we might 
grow more discriminating ; on the whole we might enjoy 
the performances just as much or even more, perhaps ; 
yet less breathlessly. We should see more and believe 
less. | The pleasure of seeing is one, and the pleasure of 
believing is quite another ; the first liberates our senses 
and fills the present with light ; the second directs our 
conduct and relieves our anxiety or doubts about the past 
and future. When the spectator bethinks himself of 
destiny as well as of beauty, his sensibility becomes tragic, 
it becomes intelligence. Every picture is then regarded 
as a sign for the whole situation which has generated 
it or which it forebodes. The given image, for intelligence, 
expresses a problematic fact ; and intelligence invents 
various grammatical forms and logical categories by which 
to describe its hidden enemy or fascinating prey. So 
spontaneous and dogmatic is the intellect in this interpreta 
tion of the scene that the conceived object (however 
abstractly sketched) is unhesitatingly judged to be, as we 
say, the real thing : it alone works and acts, whilst the 
given image is either disregarded altogether or despised as 
a mere word or phantasm of sense, such as only fools 
would stop to gaze at. And it is very true, whatever 
desperate efforts empiricism may make to deny it, that 
every figure crossing the stage of apprehension is a symbol, 
or may become a symbol ; they all have some occasion 
and arise out of some deeper commotion in the material 
world. The womb of nature is full of crowding events, 
to us invisible ; the ballet has machinery behind its vistas 
and its music ; the dancers possess a character and fate 
in the daylight quite foreign to these fays and shepherds 
before the footlights : what to us is a pirouette to them 
is a twitch or a shilling. Shame to the impious egotism 
that would deny it, and, in order to spare itself the tension 
of faith and the labour of understanding, would pretend 
to find in experience nothing but a shadowy tapestry, a 
landscape without a substance. To its invisible substance 
the spectacle owes riot only its existence but its meaning, 


since our interest in the scene is rooted in a hidden life 
within us, quite as much as the shifts and colours of the 
scenery are rooted in tricks of the stage. Nevertheless 
the roots of things are properly and decently hidden under 
ground, and it is as childish to be always pulling them 
up, to make sure that they exist, as it is to deny their 
existence. The flowers are what chiefly interests a man 
of taste ; the spectacle is what liberal-minded people have 
come to see. Every image has its specific aspect and 
aesthetic essence, more or less charming in itself ; the 
sensualist, the poet, the chronicler of his passing visions 
must take them at their face value, and be content with 
that. Fair masks, like flowers, like sunsets, like melodies 
wrung out of troubled brains and strung wire, cover for 
us appropriately the anatomical face of nature ; and 
words and dogmas are other masks, behind which we, too, 
can venture upon the stage ; for it is life to give expression 
to life, transmuting diffused movements into clear images. 
How blind is the zeal of the iconoclasts, and how profoundly 
hostile to religious impulse ! They pour scorn upon eyes 
that see not and a mouth that cannot speak ; they despise 
a work of art or of thought for being finished and motion 
less ; as if the images of the retina were less idols than 
those of the sculptor, and as if words, of all things, were 
not conventional signs, grotesque counterfeits, dead 
messengers, like fallen leaves, from the dumb soul. Why 
should one art be contemptuous of the figurative language 
of another ? Jehovah, who would suffer no statues, was 
himself a metaphor. 


WHEN we are children we love putting on masks to 
astonish our elders ; there is a lordly pleasure in puzzling 
those harmless giants who are not in the secret. We 
ourselves, of course, know that it is only a disguise ; and 
when presently we pull it off, their surprise at recognizing 
us is something deliriously comic. Yet, at bottom, this 
compulsory return to nature is a little sad ; our young 

MASKS 129 

empiricism would like to take appearances more seriously. 
To an unsophisticated mind every transformation seems 
as credible as it is interesting; there is always danger 
and hope of anything. Why should people hesitate to 
believe something intrinsically so plausible as that Johnny 
should have acquired a bull s head, or that little Alice 
should suddenly develop a red nose and furious mustachios ? 
That is just the sort of thing that would happen if this 
stupid world were only more natural ; but the trouble 
with old people is that their minds have become stagnant, 
dominated as they are by precedent and prejudice ; it 
is too much of an exertion for them to imagine anything 
but what they have always seen. Even when they tell 
us about religion, which is so full of exciting and lovely 
things that we know must be true, they seem to be trying 
to remember something they have read or heard of, "and 
quite spoil the story ; they don t seem to understand 
at all, as we do, why it all happens. They are terrible 
believers in substance, and can hardly lend themselves 
to the wayward game of experience. This after all wouldn t 
matter so much ; it is not worth while playing with people 
who don t relish games. The subtlest part of the pleasure 
is being blindfolded on purpose and feeling lost when you 
know you are not lost. Empiricism would be agony if 
any one was so silly as really to forget his material status 
and to become the sport of his passing ideas. But masks 
are great fun in themselves, and when you are fundamentally 
sane it is pleasant to play the madman and to yield to the 
eloquence of an imagined life ; and it is intolerable to have 
the game spoiled by some heavy-footed person who con 
stantly reminds you of the discovered facts and will not 
lend himself to the spirit of your fiction, which is the deepest 
part of your own spirit. No one would be angry with a 
man for unintentionally making a mistake about a matter 
of fact ; but if he perversely insists on spoiling your story 
in the telling of it, you want to kick him ; and this is the 
reason why every philosopher and theologian is justly 
vexed with every other. When we are children the 
accident and fatality of having been born human are 
recent and only half welcome ; we still feel a little hurt at 
being so arbitrarily confined to one miserable career and 


forced to remain always consistent ; we still see the equal 
antecedent propriety of being anybody or anything else. 
Masks afford us the pleasing excitement of revising our 
so accidental birth-certificate and of changing places in 
spirit with some other changeling. 

Nevertheless the game soon tires. Although children 
are no believers in substance, they are substances them 
selves without knowing it. The mask refuses to grow on 
to their flesh : it thwarts their rising impulses. Play 
acting is seldom worth the commitments it involves ; 
your part, after a few enthusiastic rehearsals, turns out 
not really to suit you. It seemed at first to open up 
splendid adventures and give you a chance to display 
your unsuspected passions and powers ; but now you 
begin to think your speeches ridiculous and your costume 
unbecoming. You must pull off the mask to see clearly 
and to breathe freely ; you are overheard indulging in 
asides that are out of character, and swearing in the 
unvarnished vernacular ; and when the performance at 
last is over, what a relief to fling away your wig and your 
false beard, and relapse into your honest self ! There 
is no place like home, although there may be better places ; 
and there is no face like one s own, for comfort to the 

The Englishman likes to be comfortable, and he hates 
masks. It is pleasant to be straightforward, as it is to 
be clean. Mere facades offend him so much that he actually 
manages to build houses without them ; they have creepers, 
they have chimneys, they have bow-windows, they have 
several doors, but they have no front. His Empire, too, 
for all its extent and complexity, presents no imposing 
fa$ade to the world ; it seems to elude observation and to 
be everywhere apologizing for its existence. Its enemies, 
on the contrary, both at home and abroad, are blatancy 
itself, always parading their heroisms and their ambitions ; 
and one wonders how a power so hated, so hesitant, and so 
involuntary can last at all. But it has a certain plastic 
invulnerability ; you pommel it and trample on it here, 
and its strength turns out to have lain in quite another 
quarter. It is like the sort of man who serves it, a 
pale languid youth, sprawling on cushions, and lisping a 

MASKS 131 

little when he cares to take his pipe out of his mouth at 
all ; but what is your surprise when, something having 
happened, he gets up and knocks you down. Nothing 
had ptrepared you for that ; no philosophical eloquence 
or resounding coup d etat : he is perhaps a little surprised 
himself at his energy. He blushes if by chance any warm 
gesture or expression has escaped him ; he feels that it 
misrepresents his average sentiment ; the echo of it sounds 
hollow in his ear, and just because it was so spontaneous 
he detests it as if it had been a lie. The passing grimaces 
of passion, the masks of life, are odious to him ; yet he 
is quite happy to be deceived and to be masked by a thick 
atmosphere of convention, if only this atmosphere is 
temperate and sustained. He will be loyal to any nonsense 
that seems to justify his instincts and that has got a 
domestic stamp ; but elaborate original lies are not in 
his nature ; he has no histrionic gift. Intrigue requires 
a clear perception of the facts, an insight into other 
people s motives, and a power of sustained simulation ; 
he is not clever at any of these things. Masks, wigs, 
cowls, and stays are too troublesome ; if you are not 
always on the watch, the beastly things will fall off. He 
prefers to dress his personage more constitutionally ; the 
dyes he uses must be all indelible, such as religion and 
education can supply. These, with the habit of his set or 
profession, are his lifelong make-up and his second nature ; 
his only mask is the imperturbed expression which time and 
temperance have chiselled in his face. 


MASKS are arrested expressions and admirable echoes of 
feeling, at once faithful, discreet, and superlative. Living 
things in contact with the air must acquire a cuticle, 
and it is not urged against cuticles that they are not hearts ; 
yet some philosophers seem to be angry with images for 
not being things, and with words for not being feelings. 
LWords and images are like shells, no less integral parts of 



nature than are the substances they cover, but better 
addressed to the eye and more open to observation. I 
would not say that substance exists for the sake of appear 
ance, or faces for the sake of masks, or the passions for the 
sake of poetry and virtue. Nothing arises in nature for 
the sake of anything else ; all these phases and products are 
nvolved equally in the round of existence, and it would 
DC sheer wilfulness to praise the germinal phase on the 
ground that it is vital, and to denounce the explicit phase 
on the ground that it is dead and sterile.! We might as 
justly despise the seed for being merely instrumental, and 
glorify the full-blown flower, or the conventions of art, 
as the highest achievement and fruition of life. Substance 
is fluid, and, since it cannot exist without some form, is 
always ready to exchange one form for another ; but 
sometimes it falls into a settled rhythm or recognizable 
vortex, which we call a nature, and which sustains an 
interesting form for a season. These sustained forms are 
enshrined in memory and worshipped in moral philosophy, 
which often assigns to them a power to create and to 
reassert themselves which their precarious status is very 
far from justifying. But they are all in all to the mind : 
art and happiness lie in pouring and repouring the molten 
metal of existence through some such tenable mould. 

Masks are accordingly glorious things ; we are in 
stinctively as proud of designing and wearing them as we 
are of inventing and using words. The blackest tragedy 
is festive ; the most pessimistic philosophy is an enthusiastic 
triumph of thought. The life which such expressions seem 
to arrest or to caricature would be incomplete without 
them ; indeed, it would be blind and abortive. It is no 
interruption to experience to master experience, as tragedy 
aspires to do ; nor is it an interruption to sink into 
its episodes and render them consummate, which is the 
trick of comedy. On the contrary, without such playful 
pauses and reflective interludes our round of motions and 
sensations would be deprived of that intellectual dignity 
which relieves it and renders it morally endurable the 
dignity of knowing what we are doing, even if it be foolish 
in itself, and with what probable issue. Tragedy, the 
knowledge of death, raises us to that height. In fancy 



and for a moment it brings our mortal wills into harmony 
with our destiny, with the wages of existence, and with 
the silence beyond. These discoveries of reason have 
fixed the expression of the tragic mask, half horror and half 
sublimity. Such is the countenance of man when turned 
towards death and eternity and looking beyond all his 
endeavours at the Gorgon face of the truth. This is not 
to say that it is less human, or less legitimate, to look 
in other directions and to make other faces. But whether 
the visage we assume be a joyful or a sad one, in adopting 
and emphasizing it we define our sovereign temper. Hence 
forth, so long as we continue under the spell of this self- 
knowledge, we do not merely live but act ; we compose 
and play our chosen character, we wear the buskin of 
deliberation, we defend and idealize our passions, we 
encourage ourselves eloquently to be what we are, devoted 
or scornful or careless or austere ; we soliloquize (before 
an imaginary audience) and we wrap ourselves gracefully 
in the mantle of our inalienable part. So draped, we 
solicit applause and expect to die amid a universal hush. 
We profess to live up to the fine sentiments we have 
uttered, as we try to believe in the religion we profess. 
The greater our difficulties the greater our zeal. Under 
our published principles and plighted language we must 
assiduously hide all the inequalities of our moods and 
conduct, and this without hypocrisy, since our deliberate 
character is more truly ourself than is the flux of our 
involuntary dreams. The portrait we paint in this way 
and exhibit as our true person may well be in the grand 
manner, with column and curtain and distant landscape 
and finger pointing to the terrestrial globe or to the Yorick- 
skull of philosophy ; but if this style is native to us and 
our art is vital, the more it transmutes its model the 
deeper and truer art it will be.] The severe bust of an 
archaic sculpture, scarcely humanizing the block, will 
express a spirit far more justly than the man s dull morning 
looks or casual grimaces. Every one who is sure of his 
mind, or proud of his office, or anxious about his duty 
assumes a tragic mask. He deputes it to be himself and 
transfers to it almost all his vanity. While still alive 
and subject, like all existing things, to the undermining 


flux of his own substance, he has crystallized his soul 
into an idea, and more in pride than in sorrow he has 
offered up his life on the altar of the Muses. Self-knowledge, 
like any art or science, renders its subject-matter in a new 
medium, the medium of ideas, in which it loses its old 
dimensions and its old pace. Our animal habits are trans 
muted by conscience into loyalties and duties, and we 
become " persons " or masks. Art, truth, and death turn 
everything to marble. 

That life should be able to reach such expression in the 
realm of eternal form is a sublime and wonderful privilege, 
but it is tragic, and for that reason distasteful to the animal 
in man. A mask is not responsive ; you must not speak to 
it as to a living person, you must not kiss it. If you do, 
you will find the cold thing repulsive and ghastly. It is 
only a husk, empty, eyeless, brittle, and glazed. fThe more 
comic its expression the more horrible it will prove, being 
that of a corpse. The animal in man responds to things 
according to their substance, edible, helpful, or plastic ; his 
only joy is to push his way victoriously through the material 
world, till a death stops him which he never thought of and, 
in a sense, never experiences. He is not in the least 
interested in picturing what he is or what he will have 
been ; he is intent only on what is happening to him now 
.or may happen to him next. But when the passions see 
/ themselves in the mirror of reflection, what they behold is a 
| tragic mask. This is the escutcheon of human nature, in 
* which its experience is emblazoned. In so far as men are 
men at all, or men of honour, they militate under this 
standard and are true to their colours. Whatever refuses 
to be idealized in this way, they are obliged to disown and 
commit to instant oblivion. It will never do for a mind 
merely to live through its passions or its perceptions ; it 
must discern recognizable objects, in which to centre its 
experience and its desires ; it must choose names and 
signs for them, and these names and symbols, if they are 
to perform their function in memory and intercourse, must 
be tightly conventional. What could be more unseemly 
than a fault in grammar, or in many a case more laughable 
and disconcerting ? Yet any solecism, if it were once 
stereotyped and made definitely significant, would become 


an idiom : it would become a good verbal mask. What is 
not covered in this way by some abiding symbol can never 
be recovered ; the dark flood of existence carries it down 
bodily. Only in some word or conventional image can thel 
secret of one moment be flashed to another moment ; and} 
even when there is no one ready to receive the message, ; 
or able to decipher it, at least the poet in his soliloquy has 
uttered his mind and raised his monument in his own eyes ; 
and in expressing his life he has found it. 


THE clown is the primitive comedian. Sometimes in the 
exuberance of animal life a spirit of riot and frolic comes 
over a man ; he leaps, he dances, he tumbles head over 
heels, he grins, shouts, or leers, possibly he pretends to go 
to pieces suddenly, and blubbers like a child. A moment 
later he may look up wreathed in smiles, and hugely 
pleased about nothing. All this he does hysterically, 
without any reason, by a sort of mad inspiration and 
irresistible impulse. He may easily, however, turn his 
absolute histrionic impulse, his pure fooling, into mimicry 
of anything or anybody that at the moment happens to 
impress his senses ; he will crow like a cock, simper like a 
young lady, or reel like a drunkard. Such mimicry is 
virtual mockery, because the actor is able to revert from 
those assumed attitudes to his natural self ; whilst his 
models, as he thinks, have no natural self save that imitable 
attitude, and can never disown it ; so that the clown feels 
himself immensely superior, in his role of universal satirist, 
to all actual men, and belabours and rails at them unmerci 
fully. He sees everything in caricature, because he sees the 
surface only, with the lucid innocence of a child ; and all 
these grotesque personages stimulate him, not to moral 
sympathy, nor to any consideration of their fate, but rather 
to boisterous sallies, as the rush of a crowd, or the hue and 
cry of a hunt, or the contortions of a jumping- jack might 
stimulate him. He is not at all amused intellectually ; he 


is not rendered wiser or tenderer by knowing the predica 
ments into which people inevitably fall ; he is merely 
excited, flushed, and challenged by an absurd spectacle. 
Of course this rush and suasion of mere existence must 
never fail on the stage, nor in any art ; it is to the drama 
what the hypnotizing stone block is to the statue, or 
shouts and rhythmic breathing to the bard ; but such 
primary magical influences may be qualified by reflection, 
and then rational and semi-tragic unities will supervene. 
When this happens the histrionic impulse creates the idyl 
or the tragic chorus ; henceforth the muse of reflection 
follows in the train of Dionysus, and the revel or the rude 
farce passes into humane comedy. 

Paganism was full of scruples and superstitions in matters 
of behaviour or of cultus, since the cultus too was regarded 
as a business or a magic craft ; but in expression, in 
reflection, paganism was frank and even shameless ; it felt 
itself inspired, and revered this inspiration. It saw nothing 
impious in inventing or recasting a myth about no matter 
how sacred a subject. Its inspiration, however, soon fell 
into classic moulds, because the primary impulses of nature, 
though intermittent, are monotonous and clearly defined, 
as are the gestures of love and of anger. A man who is 
unaffectedly himself turns out to be uncommonly like other 
people. Simple sincerity will continually rediscover the 
old right ways of thinking and speaking, and will be perfectly 
conventional without suspecting it. This classic iteration 
comes of nature, it is not the consequence of any revision 
or censorship imposed by reason. Reason, not being 
responsible for any of the facts or passions that enter into 
human life, has no interest in maintaining them as they 
are ; any novelty, even the most revolutionary, would 
merely afford reason a fresh occasion for demanding a 
fresh harmony. But the Old Adam is conservative ; he 
repeats himself mechanically in every child who cries and 
loves sweets and is imitative and jealous. Reason, with 
its tragic discoveries and restraints, is a far more precarious 
and personal possession than the trite animal experience 
and the ancestral grimaces on which it supervenes ; and 
automatically even the philosopher continues to cut his 
old comic capers, as if no such thing as reason existed. The 


wiseacres too are comic, and their mask is one of the most 
harmlessly amusing in the human museum ; for reason, 
taken psychologically, is an old inherited passion like any 
other, the passion for consistency and order ; and it is just 
as prone as the other passions to overstep the modesty of 
nature and to regard its own aims as alone important. But 
this is ridiculous ; because importance springs from the 
stress of nature, from the cry of life, not from reason and 
its pale prescriptions. Reason cannot stand alone ; brute 
habit and blind play are at the bottom of art and morals, 
and unless irrational impulses and fancies are kept alive, 
the life of reason collapses for sheer emptiness. What 
tragedy could there be, or what sublime harmonies rising 
out of tragedy, if there were no spontaneous passions to 
create the issue, no wild voices to be reduced to harmony ?, 
(Moralists have habitually aimed at suppression, wisely 
perhaps at first, when they were preaching to men of 
spirit ; but why continue to harp on propriety and 
unselfishness and labour, when we are little but labour- 
machines already, and have hardly any self or any passions 
left to indulge ?1 Perhaps the time has come to suspend 
those exhortations, and to encourage us to be sometimes 
a little lively, and see if we can invent something worth 
saying or doing. We should then be living in the spirit of 
comedy, and the world would grow young. Every occasion 
would don its comic mask, and make its bold grimace at^ 
the world for a moment. We should be constantly original" 
without effort and without shame, somewhat as we are in 
dreams, and consistent only in sincerity ; and we should 
gloriously emphasize all the poses we fell into, without 
seeking to prolong them. 

Objections to the comic mask to the irresponsible, 
complete, extreme expression of each moment cut at the 
roots of all expression. Pursue this path, and at once you 
do away with gesture : we must not point, we must not 
pout, we must not cry, we must not laugh aloud ; we 
must not only avoid attracting attention, but our 
attention must not be obviously attracted ; it is silly 
to gaze, says the nursery-governess, and rude to stare. 
Presently words, too, will be reduced to a telegraphic 
code. A man in his own country will talk like the laconic 


tourist abroad ; his whole vocabulary will be Ou ? Com- 
bienP All right! Dear me! Conversation in the quiet 
home will dispense even with these phrases ; nothing 
will be required but a few pragmatic grunts and signals 
for action. Where the spirit of comedy has departed, 
company becomes constraint, reserve eats up the spirit, 
and people fall into a penurious melancholy in their 
scruple to be always exact, sane, and reasonable, never 
to mourn, never to glow, never to betray a passion or a 
weakness, nor venture to utter a thought they might not 
wish to harbour for ever. 

Yet irony pursues these enemies of comedy, and for 
fear of wearing a mask for a moment they are hypocrites all 
their lives. Their very reserve becomes a pose, a convention 
imposed externally, and their mincing speech turns to cant. 
Sometimes this evasion of impulsive sentiment fosters a 
poignant sentimentality beneath. The comedy goes on 
silently behind the scenes, until perhaps it gets the upper 
1 hand and becomes positive madness ; or else it breaks out 
in some shy, indirect fashion, as among Americans with 

1 their perpetual joking. Where there is no habitual art and 
no moral liberty, the instinct for direct expression is 
atrophied for want of exercise ; and then slang and a 
humorous perversity of phrase or manner act as safety- 
valves to sanity ; and you manage to express yourself 
in spite of the censor by saying something grotesquely 
different from what you mean. Jhat is a long way round 
to sincerity, and an ugly one/ What, on the contrary, 
could be more splendidly sincere tnan the impulse to play 
in real life, to rise on the rising wave of every feeling and 
let it burst, if it will, into the foam of exaggeration ? Life 
is not a means, the mind is not a slave nor a photograph : 
it has a right to enact a pose, to assume a panache, and to 
create what prodigious allegories it will for the mere sport 
and glory of it. Nor is this art of innocent make-believe 
forbidden in the Decalogue, although Bible-reading Anglo- 
Saxondom might seem to think so. On the contrary, the 
Bible and the Decalogue are themselves instances of it. To 
embroider upon experience is not to bear false witness 
against one s neighbour, but to bear true witness to oneself. 
Fancy is playful and may be misleading to those who try 


to take it for literal fact ; but literalness is impossible in 
any utterance of spirit, and if it were possible it would be 
deadly. Why should we quarrel with human nature, with 
metaphor, with myth, with impersonation ? The foolish 
ness of the simple is delightful ; only the foolishness of the 
wise is exasperating. 


IN this world we must either institute conventional forms 
of expression or else pretend that we have nothing to 
express ; the choice lies between a mask and a fig-leaf. 
Art and discipline render seemly what would be unseemly 
without them, but hypocrisy hides it ostentatiously under 
something irrelevant, and the fig-leaf is only a more 
ignominious mask. For the moment it is certainly easier 
to suppress the wild impulses of our nature than to 
manifest them fitly, at the right times and with the proper 
fugitive emphasis ; yet in the long run suppression does 
not, solve the problem, and meantime those maimed 
expressions which are allowed are infected with a secret 
misery and falseness. It is the charm and safety of virtue 
that it is more natural than vice, but many moralists do 
their best to deprive it of this advantage.) They seem to 
think it would lose its value if they lost their office. Their 
precepts, as distinguished from the spontaneous apprecia 
tions of men, are framed in the interests of utility, and are 
curiously out of sympathy with the soul. Precept divides 
the moral world materially into right and wrong things ; 
but nothing concrete is right or wrong intrinsically, and 
every object or event has both good and bad effects in the 
context of nature. Every passion, like life as a whole, 
has its feet in one moral climate and its head in another. 
Existence itself is not a good, but only an opportunity. 
Christians thank God for their creation, preservation, and 
all the blessings of this life, but life is the condition and 
source of all evil, and the Indians thank Brahma or Buddha 
for lifting them out of it. What metaphysical psychologists 
call Will is the great original sin, the unaccountable and 


irrational interest which the spirit takes, when it is incarnate, 
in one thing happening rather than another ; yet this mad 

I interest is the condition of generosity and of every virtue. 

I Love is a red devil at one end of its spectrum and an ultra- 

I violet angel at the other end. 

Nor is this amphibious moral quality limited to the 
passions ; all facts and objects in nature can take on 
opposite moral tints. When abstracted from our own 
presence and interests, everything that can be found or 
imagined is reduced to a mere essence, an ideal theme 
picked out of the infinite, something harmless, marvellous, 
and pure, like a musical rhythm or geometrical design. 
The whole world then becomes a labyrinth of forms and 
motions, a castle in the clouds built without labour and 
dissolved without tears. The moment the animal will 
reawakes, however, these same things acquire a new 
dimension ; they become substantial, not to be created 
without effort nor rent without resistance ; at the same 
time they become objects of desire and fear ; we are so 
engrossed in existence that every phenomenon becomes 
questionable and ominous, and not so much a free gift 
and manifestation of its own nature as a piece of good or 
bad news. We are no longer surprised, as a free spirit 
would be, at the extraordinary interest we take in things 
turning out one way rather than another. We are caught 
in the meshes of time and place and care ; and as the 
things we have set our heart on, whatever they may be, 
must pass away in the end, either suddenly or by a gentle 

/transformation, we cannot take a long view without finding 
life sad, and all things tragic. This aspect of vanity and 
self-annihilation, which existence wears when we consider 
its destiny, is not to be denied or explained away, as is 
sometimes attempted in cowardly and mincing philosophies. 
It is a true aspect of existence in one relation and on a 
certain view ; but to take this long view of existence, and 
look down the avenues of time from the station and with 
the emotions of some particular moment, is by no means 
inevitable, noz-ialt a fair and sympathetic way of viewing 
existence. Things when they are actual do not lie in that 
sort of sentimental perspective, but each is centred in 
itself ; and in this intrinsic aspect existence is nothing 


*t <> 


tragic or sad, but rather something joyful, hearty, and 
merry. A buoyant and full-blooded soul has quick senses 
and miscellaneous sympathies : it changes with the 
changing world; and when not too much starved or 
thwarted by circumstances, it finds all things vivid and 
comic. Life is free play fundamentally and would like to 
be free play altogether. In youth anything is pleasant to 
see or to do, so long as it is spontaneous, and if the 
conjunction of these things is ridiculous, so much the 
better : to be ridiculous is part of the fun. 

Existence involves changes and happenings and is comic 
inherently, like a pun that begins with one meaning and 
ends with another. Incongruity is a consequence of change ; 
and this incongruity becomes especially conspicuous when, 
as in the flux of nature, change is going on at different 
rates in different strands of being, so that not only does 
each thing surprise itself by what it becomes, but it is 
continually astonished and disconcerted by what other 
things have turned into without its leave. The mishaps, 
the expedients, the merry solutions of comedy, in which 
everybody acknowledges himself beaten and deceived, yet 
is the happier for the unexpected posture of affairs, belong 
to the very texture of temporal being ; and if people repine 
at these mishaps, or rebel against these solutions, it is only 
because their souls are less plastic and volatile than the 
general flux of nature. The individual grows old and lags 
behind ; he remembers his old pain and resents it when 
the world is already on a new tack. In the jumble of 
existence there must be many a knock and many a grief ; 
people living at cross purposes cannot be free from malice, 
and they must needs be fooled by their pretentious passions. 
But there is no need of taking these evils tragically. At 
bottom they are gratuitous, and might have been avoided 
if people had not pledged their hearts to things beyond 
their control and had not entrenched themselves in their 
illusions. At a sufficient remove every drama seems 
pathological and makes much ado about what to other 
people is nothing. We are interested in those vicissitudes, 
which we might have undergone if placed under the given 
circumstances ; but we are happy to have escaped them. 
Thus the universe changes its hues like the chameleon, not 


at random but in a fashion which moral optics can deter 
mine, as it appears in one perspective or another ; for 
everything in nature is lyrical in its ideal essence, tragic 
in its fate, and comic in its existence. 

Existence is indeed distinguishable from the platonic 
essences that are embodied in it precisely by being a 
conjunction of things mutually irrelevant, a chapter 
of accidents, a medley improvised here and now for 
no reason, to the exclusion of the myriad other farces 
which, so far as their ideal structure is concerned, might 
have been performed just as well. This world is contin- 
i; gency and absurdity incarnate, the oddest of possibilities 
\ masquerading momentarily as a fact. Custom blinds 
1 persons who are not naturally speculative to the egregious 
character of the actual, because custom assimilates their 
expectations to the march of existing things and deadens 
their power to imagine anything different. But wherever 
the routine of a barbaric life is broken by the least ac 
quaintance with larger ways, the arbitrariness of the 
actual begins to be discovered. The traveller will first 
learn that his native language is not the only one, nor 
the best possible, nor itself constant ; then, perhaps, he 
will understand that the same is true of his home religion 
and government. The naturalist will begin by marvelling 
at the forms and habits of the lower animals, while con 
tinuing to attribute his own to their obvious propriety ; 
later the heavens and the earth, and all physical laws, will 
strike him as paradoxically arranged and unintelligible ; 
and ultimately the very elements oi existence time, 
change, matter, habit, life cooped in bodies will reveal 
themselves to him in their extreme oddity, so that, unless 
he has unusual humility and respect for fact, he will 
probably declare all these actual things to be impossible 
and therefore unreal. The most profound philosophers 
accordingly deny that any of those things exist which we 
find existing, and maintain that the only reality is change 
less, infinite, and indistinguishable into parts ; and I call 
them the most profound philosophers in spite of this obvious 
folly of theirs, because they are led into it by the force of 
intense reflection, which discloses to them that what 
exists is unintelligible and has no reason for existing ; and 


since their moral and religious prejudices do not allow 
them to say that to be irrational and unintelligible is the 
character proper to existence, they are driven to the 
alternative of saying that existence is illusion and that 
the only reality is something beneath or above existence. 
That real existence should be radically comic never occurs 
to these solemn sages ; they are without one ray of humour 
and are persuaded that the universe too must be without 
one. Yet there is a capital joke in their own systems, 
which prove that nothing exists so strenuously, that 
existence laughs aloud in their vociferations and drowns 
the argument. Their conviction is the very ghost which it 
rises to exorcise ; yet the conviction and the exorcism 
remain impressive, because they bear witness to the 
essential strangeness of existence to the spirit. Like 
the Ghost in Hamlet this apparition, this unthinkable 
fact, is terribly disturbing and emphatic ; it cries to us 
in a hollow voice, " Swear ! " and when in an agony of 
concern and affection we endeavour to follow it, " Tis 
here ! Tis here ! Tis gone ! " Certainly existence can; 
bewitch us ; it can compel us to cry as well as to laugh ;\ 
it can hurt, and that is its chief claim to respect. Its 
cruelty, however, is as casual as its enchantments ; it is 
not cruel on purpose but only rough, like thoughtless boys. 
Coarseness and existence is hopelessly coarse is not an 
evil unless we demand refinement. A giggling lass that; 
peeps at us through her fingers is well enough in her sphere, 
but we should not have begun by calling her Dulcinea. 
Dulcinea is a pure essence, and dwells only in that realm. 
Existence should be met on its own terms ; we may dance 
a round with it, and perhaps steal a kiss ; but it tempts 
only to flout us, not being dedicated to any constant love. 
As if to acknowledge how groundless existence is, every 
thing that arises instantly backs away, bowing its excuses, 
and saying, " My mistake ! " It suffers from a sort of 
original sin or congenital tendency to cease from being. 
This is what Heraclitus called A 1/07, or just punishment ; 
because, as Mephistopheles long afterwards added, alles 
was entsteht ist wert dass es zugrunde geht whatsoever 
arises deserves to perish ; not of course because what 
arises is not often a charming creation, but because it has 


no prerogative to exist not shared by every Cinderella-like 
essence that lies eternally neglected in that limbo to which 
all things intrinsically belong the limbo of unheard 
melodies and uncreated worlds. For anything to emerge 
from that twilight region is inexplicable and comic, like 
the popping up of Jack-in-the-box ; and the shock will 
amuse us, if our wits are as nimble as nature and as quick 
as time. We too exist ; and existence is a joy to the 
sportive side of our nature, itself akin to a shower of 
sparks and a patter of irrevocable adventures. What 
indeed could be more exhilarating than such a rout, if 
only we are not too exacting, and do not demand of it 
irrelevant perfections ? The art of life is to keep step with 
the celestial orchestra that beats the measure of our career, 
and gives the cue for our exits and our entrances. Why 
should we willingly miss anything, or precipitate anything, 
or be angry with folly, or in despair at any misadventure ? 
In this world there should be none but gentle tears, and 
fluttering tip-toe loves. It is a great Carnival, and amongst 
these lights and shadows of comedy, these roses and vices 
of the playhouse, there is no abiding. 


NATURE, which is far more resourceful than logic, has 
found a way out of the contradiction between the human 
need for expression and the British distaste for personal 
outbursts. This way is rambling fiction. When out of 
shyness, or because they have shocked each other, the inner 
man and the outer man are not on speaking terms, loud 
language and vehement gestures are incompatible with 
depth of feeling. What lies deep must in such a case 
remain unexpressed, and will seem inexpressible. A man s 
heart will be revealed, even to himself, only in long 
stretches of constant endeavour and faithful habit : 
towards the end of his life he may begin to discern his 
ruling motives. In the meantime, however, his fancy 
may have played at self-revelation ; he may have indulged 


in day-dreams and romantic transformations of himself, 
as boys do ; and without pledging his real person too much 
he may have made trial of candour, or, if need be, of 
extravagance, in imaginary substitutes for himself, thus 
trying the paces of his inner man without cheapening his 
secret feelings or publishing them in common and second 
hand terms. Such a man will talk little about himself ; 
his opinions and preferences will not be very explicit, 
but he will privily nurse and develop them by endless 
variations played upon them in fancy, as he reads or perhaps 
writes a book of fiction by his chimney corner. He will 
dream of what Queen Mab makes other people dream. 

Romantic fiction is a bypath of expression ; it meanders 
through fields of possible experience that stretch harmlessly 
between the highroads of actual lives, far from the precipices 
of private and public passions. The labyrinth is infinite, 
but the path chosen in it is always traceable by a sort of 
Ariadne s thread spun out of the poet s heart. He means 
to forget himself and to feign some charming monster in 
some picturesque landscape, the more exotic the better ; 
but in doing so he obeys the dream-impulses of his own 
soul, and recasts or corrects the images supplied by his 
experience. His very extravagances and hectic concentra 
tion of fancy betray him ; they manifest his impatience, 
his affections, his potentialities ; for he paints what he 
can conceive and what fascinates him in conceiving it. 
That which he might have been, and was not, comforts 
him. Such a form of self-expression, indirect, bashful, 
and profoundly humorous, being play rather than art, 
is alone congenial to the British temperament ; it is the 
soul of English literature. Like English politics and 
religion, it breathes tolerance, plasticity, waywardness, 
infinitude ; it is tender and tentative, shapeless and guile 
less. Its straggling march forms a vast national soliloquy, 
rich in casual touches, in alternatives, in contrasts, in 
suspended themes ; the plot grows out of the episodes, it 
is always being remodelled and always to be continued. 
The facts, though much talked of in detail, are never faced 
as a whole, nor is the soul ever gathered together to 
pronounce upon them ; the whole procedure is a subter 
fuge, and may be easily disparaged by people with other 


gifts and aspirations. Intelligence certainly does not 
dominate it ; its conclusions, when it reaches conclusions, 
are false, and its methods cumbrous ; and foreigners who 
adopt them are catching only the vices of their model. 
But its virtues are transcendent ; if the mind of England 
is wrapped in mists, it is touched with ethereal colours ; 
and who shall measure the benign influences, the lights, 
the manliness, the comforts, the moral sanity that have 
spread from it through the world ? Its very incapacities 
are full of promise ; it closes no doors ; it is the one 
fountain of kindly liberty on earth. The Englishman s 
prejudices are so obviously prejudices as to be almost 
innocent, and even amiable ; his consecrated formulas 
(for of course he has them) are frankly inadequate and 
half humorous ; he would not have you suppose he has 
said his all, nor his last word. He is jealous of preserving, 
far from public observation or censure, the free play of 
his potential sentiments ; from thence he will occasionally 
fetch some scrap of a word, or let slip some hint of emotion ; 
he will only murmur or suggest or smile his loves. Every 
body dislikes a caricature of himself ; and the Englishman 
feels (I think justly) that any figure a man can cut in other 
people s eyes is a caricature. Therefore, if there is any 
thing in him, he fears to betray it ; and if there is nothing 
in him, he fears to betray that ; and in either case he is 
condemned to diffidence and shyness. He wishes you to 
let him alone ; perhaps if you do he may presently tell 
you, about quite another imaginary person, some vivid 
and tender story. 

This story may be a fairy tale or it may be a piece 
of realistic fiction, in which the experiences of sundry 
characters, as different as possible from oneself and from 
one another, are imagined and lived through. The author 
may fairly say that these creations are not masks for his 
own person ; it is expressly not his own feelings that he 
is evoking and developing. He is fancying other feelings ; 
and yet, as this fancy and the magic life it constitutes are 
necessarily his own, his mind is being secretly agitated 
and relieved by these fictions ; and his sensibility, instead 
of being sublimated into some ultimate tragic passion, is 
diffused over a thousand picturesque figures and adventures 


with which he acknowledges no moral kinship, save such 
as is requisite for a lively interest in them and a minute 
portrayal. It is only by accident that any of his poetic 
offspring may resemble their parent. What cares he what 
curious eye may note their deformity ? He need not blush 
for them. He may even be bent on unmasking and fiercely 
condemning them, as a scrupulous penitent is bent on 
ferreting out and denouncing his real or fancied sins. In 
the most searching truth of fiction there is accordingly 
no indiscretion ; the author s inmost and least avowable 
feelings may be uttered through it without reserve. Like 
a modest showman behind the curtain of his booth, he 
manipulates his marionettes and speaks for them in a 
feigned voice, by a sort of ventriloquy. Here is no religious 
tragedy, no distilled philosophy, no overarching cosmic 
myth. The scale is pleasantly small and the tone familiar, 
though the sum of the parts may fade into the infinite. 
We do not find in this complicated dream any life greater 
than our own or less accidental. We do not need to out 
grow ourselves in order to understand it ; no one summons 
us to pause, to recant, to renounce any part of our being. 
On the contrary, we simply unwind our own reel ; we play 
endlessly at living, and in this second visionary life we 
survive all catastrophes, and we exchange one character 
for another without carrying over any load of memory 
or habit or fate. We seem still to undergo the vicissitudes 
of a moral world, but without responsibility. 

Queen Mab is a naughty sprite, full of idle curiosity 
and impartial laughter. When she flutters over the 
roofs of cities, she is no angel with a mission, coming to 
sow there some chosen passion or purpose of her own ; 
nor does she gather from those snoring mortals any 
collective sentiment or aspiration, such as a classic muse 
might render articulate, or such as religion or war or 
some consecrated school of art might embody. She steals 
wilily like a stray moonbeam into every crack and dark 
old corner of the earth. Her deft touch, as she pretends, 
sets all men dreaming, each after his own heart ; but like 
other magicians, she is a fraud. Those garden fancies 
about her fairy equipage are all a joke to amuse the 
children ; her wings are, in reality, far finer than gossamer, 


and the Equivocation she rides on is nimbler than any 
grasshopper. All she professes to spy out or provoke is 
her own merry invention. Her wand really works no 
miracle and sets no sleeper dreaming ; on the contrary, 
it is rather an electric spark from the lover s brain or the 
parson s nose, as she tickles it, that quickens her own 
fancy, and hatches there an interminable brood of exquisite 
oddities, each little goblin perfectly ridiculous, each quite 
serious and proud of its little self, each battling bravely 
for its little happiness. Queen Mab is the genius proper 
to the art of a nation whose sensibility is tender, but 
whose personal life is drab and pale. To report, however 
poetically, the events and feelings they have actually 
experienced would be dull, as dull as life ; their imagination 
craves entertainment with something richer, more wayward, 
more exciting. Every one is weary of his own society ; 
the lifelong company of so meagre and warped a creature 
has become insufferable. We see that the passions of 
Mercutio are potentially deep and vivid ; but they have 
been crossed by fortune, and on fortune his kindly humour 
mockingly takes its revenge, by feigning no end of parodies 
and escapades for the ineffable bright mischiefs lurking 
in his bosom. Queen Mab is the frail mothlike emanation 
of such a generous but disappointed mind ; her magic 
lies in the ironical visions which, like the dust of the poppy, 
she can call forth there. A Cinderella at home, she becomes 
a seer in her midnight travels. Hence Table Rounds and 
Ivanhoes ; hence three-volume novels about Becky Sharps 
and David Copperfields. These imagined characters are 
often alive, not only because the scene in which they move 
may be well indicated, with romantic absorption in the 
picturesque aspects of human existence, but also because 
their minds are the author s mind dreaming ; they skirt 
the truth of his inner man ; in their fancifulness or their 
realism they retain a secret reference to the deepest impulses 
in himself. 

English lovers, I believe, seldom practise what in Spain 
is called conjugating the verb ; they do not spend hours 
ringing the changes on I love, you love, we love. This, 
in their opinion, would be to protest too much. They 
prefer the method of Paolo and Francesca : they will 


sit reading out of the same book, and when they come to 
the kissing, she will say, " How nice that is !" and he will 
reply, " Isn t it ? " and the story will supply the vicarious 
eloquence of their love. Fiction and poetry, in some 
supposititious instance, report for the Englishman the 
bashful truth about himself ; and what English life thereby 
misses in vivacity, English literature gains in wealth, in 
tenderness, in a rambling veracity, and in preciousness to 
the people s heart. 


IN classical Spanish drama the masks are few. The 
characters hardly have individual names. The lady in 
Calderon, for instance, if she is not Beatriz will be Leonor, 
and under either name so superlatively beautiful, young, 
chaste, eloquent, devoted, and resourceful, as to be in 
distinguishable from her namesakes in the other plays. 
The hero is always exaggeratedly in love, exaggeratedly 
chivalrous, and absolutely perfect, save for this heroic 
excess of sensitiveness and honour. The old father is 
always austere, unyielding, perverse, and sublime. All 
the maids in attendance possess the same roguishness, the 
same genius for intrigue and lightning mendacity ; whilst 
the valet, whether called Crispin or Florin, is always a 
faithful soul and a coward, with the same quality of rather 
forced humour. No diversity from play to play save the 
diversity in the fable, in the angle at which the stock 
characters are exhibited and the occasion on which they 
versify ; for they all versify in the same style, with the 
same inexhaustible facility, abundance, rhetorical finish, 
and lyric fire. 

Why this monotony ? Did Spanish life afford fewer 
contrasts, less individuality of character and idiom, than 
did the England of Shakespeare ? Hardly : in Spain 
the soldier of fortune, the grandee, peasant, monk, or pre 
late, the rogue, beggar, and bandit were surely as highly 
characterized as anything to be then found in England ; 
and Spanish women in their natural ardour of affection, 


in their ready speech and discretion, in their dignity and 
religious consecration, lent themselves rather better, one 
would think, to the making of heroines than did those 
comparatively cool and boylike young ladies whom Shake 
speare transmuted into tragic angels. I think we may go 
further and say positively that it was Spain rather than 
England that could have shown the spectacle of " every 
man in his humour." 

Even in the days before Puritanism English character! 
was English ; it tended to silent independence and outward 
reserve, preferring to ignore its opposite rather than to: 
challenge it. In pose and expression the Spaniard is| 
naturally more theatrical and pungent ; and his individu 
ality itself is stiffer. No doubt, in society, he will simulate 
and dissimulate as an Englishman never would ; but he 
is prompted to this un-English habit by the very fixity 
of his purposes ; all his courtesy and loyalty are ironical, 
and inwardly he never yields an inch. He likes if possible 
to be statuesque ; he likes to appeal to his own principles 
and character, and to say, " Sir, whatever you may think 
of it, that is the sort of man I am." He has that curious 
form of self-love which inclines to parade even its defects, 
as a mourner parades his grief. He admits readily that 
he is a sinner, and that he means to remain one ; he 
composes his countenance proudly on that basis ; whereas 
when English people say they are miserable sinners (which 
happens only in church) they feel perhaps that they are 
imperfect or unlucky, and they may even contemplate 
being somewhat different in future ; but it never occurs 
to them to classify themselves as miserable sinners for good, 
with a certain pride in their class, deliberately putting on 
the mask of Satan or the cock s feather of Mephistopheles 
and saying to all concerned, " See what a very devil I am ! " 
The Englishman s sins are slips ; he feels he was not himself 
on those occasions, and does not think it fair to be reminded 
of them. Though theology may sometimes have taught 
him that he is a sinner fundamentally, such is not his 
native conviction ; the transcendental ego in him cannot 
admit any external standard to which it ought to have 
conformed. The Spaniard is metaphysically humbler, 
knowing himself to be a creature of accident and fate ; 


yet he is dramatically more impudent, and respects himself 
more than he respects other people. He laughs at kings ; 
and as amongst beggars it is etiquette to whine, and 
ostentatiously to call oneself blind, old, poor, crippled, 
hungry, and a brother of yours, so amongst avowed sinners 
it may become a point of pride to hold, as it were, the record 
as a liar, a thief, an assassin, or a harlot. These roles are 
disgraceful when one is reduced to them by force of circum 
stances or for some mean ulterior motive, but they recover 
their human dignity when one wears them as a chosen 
mask in the comedy of life. The pose, at that angle, 
redeems the folly, and the fagade the building. Nor 
is this a lapse into sheer immorality ; there is many a 
primitive or animal level of morality beneath the conven 
tional code ; and often crime and barbarism are as proud 
of themselves as virtue, and no less punctilious. If there 
is effrontery in such a rebellion, there may be also sincerity, 
courage, relief, profound truth to one s own nature. Hence 
the eloquence of romanticism. Passion and wilfulnessi 
(which romanticists think are above criticism) cannot be 
expected to understand that, if they merged and subsided 
into a harmony, the life distilled out of their several deaths 
would be infinitely more living and varied than any of 
them, and would be beautiful and perfect to boot ; whereas 
the romantic chaos which they prolong by their obstinacy 
is the most hideous of hells. But avowed sinners and 
proud romanticists insist on preserving and on loving hell, 
because they insist on loving and preserving themselves. 

It was not, then, moral variety that was lacking in 
Spain, always a romantic country, but only interest in 
moral variety. This lack of interest was itself an expres 
sion of romantic independence, intensity, and pride. The 
gentleman with his hand always on the hilt of his sword, 
lest some whiff from anywhere should wound his vanity, 
or the monk perpetually murmuring memento mori, closed 
his mind to every alien vista. Of course he knew that the 
world was full of motley characters : that was one of his 
reasons for holding it at arm s length. What were those 
miscellaneous follies to him but an offence or a danger ? 
Why should he entertain his leisure in depicting or idealizing 
them ? If some psychological zoologist cared to discant 


on the infinity of phenomena, natural or moral, well and 
good ; but how should such things charm a man of honour, 
a Christian, or a poet ? They might indeed be referred to 
on occasion, as fabulists make the animals speak, with a 
humorous and satirical intention, as a sort of warning and 
confirmation to us in our chosen path ; but an appealing 
poet, for such tightly integrated minds, must illustrate 
and enforce their personal feelings. Moreover, although 
in words and under the spell of eloquence the Spaniard 
may often seem credulous and enthusiastic, he is dis 
illusioned and cynical at heart ; he does not credit the 
existence of motives or feelings better than those he has 
observed, or thinks he has observed. His preachers 
recommend religion chiefly by composing invectives against 
the world, and his political writers express sympathy with 
one foreign country only out of hatred for another, or 
perhaps for their own. The sphere of distrust and in 
difference begins for him very near home ; he has little 
speculative sympathy with life at large ; he is cruel to 
animals ; he shrugs his shoulders at crime in high places ; 
he feels little responsibility to the public, and has small 
faith in time and in work. This does not mean in the 
least that his character is weak or his morality lax within 
its natural range ; his affections are firm, his sense of 
obligation deep, his delicacy of feeling often excessive ; 
he is devoted to his family, and will put himself to any 
inconvenience to do a favour to a friend at the public 
expense. There are definite things to which his sentiments 
and habits have pledged him : beyond that horizon 
nothing speaks to his heart. 

Such a people will not go to the play to be vaguely 
entertained, as if they were previously bored. They 
are not habitually bored ; they are full to the brim of their 
characteristic passions and ideas. They require that the 
theatre should set forth these passions and ideas as 
brilliantly and convincingly as possible, in order to be 
confirmed in them, and to understand and develop them 
more clearly. Variety of plot and landscape they will 
relish, because nothing is easier for them than to imagine 
themselves born in the purple, or captive, or in love, or in 
a difficult dilemma of honour ; and they will be deeply 


moved to see some constant spirit, like their own, buffeted 
by fortune, but even in the last extremity never shaken. 
The whole force of their dramatic art will lie in leading 
them to dream of themselves in a different, perhaps more 
glorious, position, in which their latent passions might 
be more splendidly expressed. These passions are intense 
and exceptionally definite ; and this is the reason, I think, 
for the monotony of Spanish music, philosophy, and 
romantic drama. All eloquence, all issues, all sentiments, 
if they are not to seem vapid and trivial, must be such as 
each man can make his own, with a sense of enhanced 
vitality and moral glory. The lady, if he is to warm to 
her praises, must not be less divine than the one he loves, 
or might have loved ; the hero must not fall short of what, 
under such circumstances, he himself would have wished 
to be. The language, too, must always be worthy of the 
theme : it cannot be too rapturous and eloquent. Unless 
his soul can be fired by the poet s words, and can sing 
them, as it were, in chorus, he will not care to listen to 
them. But he will not tire of the same cadences or the 
same images stars, foam, feathers, flowers if these 
symbols, better than any others, transport him into 
(the ethereal atmosphere which it is his pleasure to 

The Spanish nation boils the same peas for its dinner 
*the whole year round ; it has only one religion, if it has 
any ; the pious part of it recites the same prayers fifty 
or one hundred and fifty times daily, almost in one breath ; 
the gay and sentimental part never ceases to sing the same 
jotas and malaguenas. Such constancy is admirable. If 
a dish is cheap, nutritious, and savoury on Monday, it 
must be so on Tuesday, too ; it was a ridiculous falsehood, 
though countenanced by some philosophers, which pre 
tended that always to feel (or to eat) the same thing was 
equivalent to never feeling (or eating) anything. Nor 
does experience of a genuine good really have any tendency 
to turn it into an evil, or into an indifferent thing ; at 
most, custom may lead people to take it for granted, and 
the thoughtless may forget its value, until, perhaps, they 
lose it. Of course, men and nations may slowly change 
their nature, and consequently their rational preferences ; 


but at any assigned time a man must have some moral 
complexion, or if he has none, not much need be said 
about him. 

But there is another point to be considered. Need 
human nature s daily food be exclusively the Spanish pea ? 
Might it not just as well be rice, or polenta, or even beef 
and bacon ? Much as I admire my countrymen s stomachs 
for making a clear choice and for sticking to it, I rather 
pity them for the choice they have made. That hard 
yellow pea is decidedly heavy, flatulent, and indigestible. 
I am sure Pythagoras would not have approved of it; 
possibly it is the very bean he abhorred. Against the jota 
and the malaguena I can say nothing ; I find in them I 
know not what infinite, never-failing thrill and inimitable 
power, the power which perfection of any kind always has ; 
yet what are they in comparison to all the possibilities 
of human music ? Enjoyment, which some people 
call criticism, is something aesthetic, spontaneous, and 
irresponsible ; the aesthetic perfection of anything is 
incommensurable with that of anything else. But there 
is a responsible sort of criticism which is political and 
moral, and which turns on the human advantage of 
possessing or loving this or that sort of perfection. To 
cultivate some sorts may be useless or even hostile to the 
possible perfection of human life. Spanish religion, again, 
is certainly most human and most superhuman ; but its 
mystic virtue to the devotee cannot alter the fact that, 
on a broad view, it appears to be a romantic tour de force, 
a desperate illusion, fostered by premature despair and by 
a total misunderstanding of nature and history. Finally, 
those lyrical ladies and entranced gentlemen of the Spanish 
drama are like filigree flowers upon golden stems ; they 
belong to a fantastic ballet, to an exquisite dream, rather 
than to sane human society. The trouble is not that their 
types are few and constant, but that these types are 
eccentric, attenuated, and forced. They would not be 
monotonous if they were adequate to human nature. How 
vast, how kindly, how enveloping does the world of Shake 
speare seem in comparison ! We seem to be afloat again on 
the tide of time, in a young, green world ; we are ready 
to tempt new fortunes, in the hope of reaching better things 


than we know. And this is the right spirit ; because 
although the best, if it had been attained, would be all- 
sufficient, the best is not yet. 

<^fatw" .*4** r| ^ *i 


THERE is an important official of the inner man who in the 
latest psychology is called the Censor ; his function is to 
forbid the utterance, in the council chamber within us, of 
unparliamentary sentiments, and to suppress all reports 
not in the interest of our moral dignity. By relegating 
half our experience to oblivion and locking up our unseemly 
passions in solitary dungeons, the Censor composes a 
conventional personage that we may decently present to 
the world. It is he, whilst we are sane and virtuous, that 
regulates our actions. It had occurred to me sometimes 
that the Censor was only another name for our old friend 
Reason ; but there is a great difference. This is no censor 
of the noble Roman sort, like Cato Major ; he makes no 
attempt to purify the republic from within ; he is not 
concerned with moral health, honest harmony, and the 
thorough extirpation of hopeless rebels. He is concerned 
only with appearances and diplomatic relations ; his old 
name was not Reason but Vanity or Self-love. He is 
merely the head of the government propaganda, charged 
with preventing inconvenient intelligence of our psycho 
logical home politics from reaching foreign powers or 
weakening the moral of our fighting force. He is the 
father of shams. He invents those masterly methods of 
putting our best foot forward, and sustaining the illusion 
that we are always actuated by becoming and avowable 
motives. He it is that dictates the polite movements by 
which we show that we prefer the comfort of others to our 
own. He causes us to put on mourning for those who have 
left us legacies. He persuades us that we believe in the 
religion of our ancestors, in the science of the day, in the 
national cause, and in the party cry. He leads us to admire 
the latest art, or the most ancient ; he enables us to be 


pleased with every fashion in turn, or perhaps to sigh at 
its ugliness, if we are conscious of being the best-dressed 
persons in the room. He induces us to follow the doings 
of the royal family with affectionate awe, to love our 
relations, to prefer Bach to Offenbach, and always to have 
had a good time when we leave a friend s house. The 
Censor sends our children to the best schools, to prove 
what sacrifices we are willing to make for their good, and 
to relieve us of further responsibility in regard to them. 
He directs that considerations of wealth shall control our 
careers, our friendships, and our manners ; and this is 
perhaps the greatest sham of all the shams he has set up : 
that money is an expression of happiness and a means to 
it. What opens the way to happiness, if our character does 
not render happiness impossible, is freedom, and some 
security against want is usually necessary for that ; but 
wealth, and the necessity of being fashionable if one is 
rich, take away freedom. A genuine love for the pleasant 
surroundings and the facilities which riches afford is often 
keener in the outsider, who peeps in at the gate, than in 
the master or his children who perhaps, if the Censor would 
let them, would prefer their low acquaintance and their 
days afield. But the Censor-ridden inner man cannot break 
his harness. He is groomed and reined in like a pony at 
the circus : at the crack of the whip the neck must be 
bent, the tail switched, the trained feet must retrace the 
circle in the sawdust, or tap the velvet barrier. So we 
prance to our funeral, the last sham of all, after the Censor 
has made our wills for us ; whereupon somebody else s 
Censor gives us the finishing touches by praising our 
character, and nailing down the coffin. 

The untutored passions which the Censor keeps down 
are themselves remarkable dissemblers. That old pro 
pensity to allegory, which is now condemned in literature, 
seems to rule unchecked in dreams. Invention in dreams, 
as in mythology, is far-fetched, yet spontaneous. What 
it sets immediately before us is a third or a fourth trans 
formation of the fundamental fact. It hides the fact, 
without misrepresenting it ; the orchestration of the theme, 
the alien images in which allegory dresses it up, are 
suggested by some subtle affinity, some instinctive choice, 


which is perfectly automatic and innocent ; the Psyche 
could find no simpler way of bringing her agitations to 
consciousness. Just as we cannot see a material object 
more clearly than by seeing exactly how it looks (though 
that may not be at all how it is), so we cannot express a 
feeling more sincerely than by rehearsing all the images, 
all the metaphors, which it suggests to us. Passion when 
aroused to speech is rich in rhetorical figures. When we 
assert inaccurately that a man is a cur we depart from 
observation only to register sentiment ; we express truly 
the niche he fills in our thoughts. Dramatic poetry is an 
excursus in this direction ; it reports the echoes which events 
produce in a voluminous inner sensibility ; it throws back 
our perception of what is going on into the latent dream 
which this perception has for its background : for a percep 
tion, apart from its object, is only one feature in a dream, 
momentarily more salient than the rest. These natural 
harlequins, the passions, are perfectly sincere in their 
falsehoods and indirections : their fancy is their only 
means of expressing the facts. To be more literal would 
require training, and a painful effort ; it would require 
the art of reading and discounting dreams, whilst these 
simple poets have only the gift of dreaming. When Juliei^ 
dreams (it is a desperate poetic little dream created by 
her passion) that she will cut up Romeo into bits and make \ 
stars of him, the image is extravagant ; yet if the funda 
mental theme is, as I suppose, that every atom of Romeo 
is precious, this mad but natural passion for the bits, even, 
of what she loves, is expressed truly. But this sort of 
sincere fiction, though it may put the Censor to sleep if 
he does not quite understand what it signifies, is the very 
opposite of his own shams ; it is exuberance and these 
are suppression. If the Censor could have got at Juliet 
in time, she would have expressed herself quite differently. 
Wiping her prospective tears he would have said, " What 
is Romeo s body to me ? Our spirits will be reunited in 
heaven ! " This would have been a sham ; because we 
should now not be led to understand that Juliet loved the 
eyes and the hands and the lips of Romeo which was the 
fact to be expressed but on the contrary her idolatrous 
infatuation would have been hushed up, and something 


else, an empty convention contradicting her true feeling, 
would have been substituted for it. 

The Censor may not be useless to the poet in the end, 
because the need of shamming develops sensitiveness in 
some directions, as in that, for instance, of self-conscious 
ness. The vigour of art in England may depend on the 
possibility of using the fineness of perception which 
reticence enhances in order to invent new metaphors and 
allegories by which to express the heart. Could a vigorous 
English art, for instance, ever give expression to the 
erotic passion which, according to this latest psychology, 
plays such a great part in the Psyche ? The comic vein 
of English writers commonly stops short at the improper. 
This is doubtless a wise modesty on their part, because 
every artist is a moralist, though he need not preach ; like 
Orpheus he tames the simple soul to his persuasive 
measures ; he insinuates his preferences and his principles, 
he teaches us what to love : and to discover what we 
truly love is the whole of ethics. Now if any passion were 
sinful and really shameful in itself, it ought not to enter 
at all into human life, either through the door of art or 
through any other door. Conceivably a perfect expression 
might still be given to it technically, although even this 
is improbable if the artist had a bad conscience and a 
leering eye ; but this expression, good only from an 
abstracted point of view, would be on the whole an evil 
experience and an evil possession. If the early Christians 
and the Puritans and a whole cloud of mystics and ascetics 
everywhere have been right in thinking the flesh essentially 
sinful, the Censor must not be allowed to flinch ; on the 
contrary, he must considerably extend his operations. If 
you renounce the flesh you must renounce the world ; 
things called indecent or obscene are inextricably woven 
into the texture of human existence ; there can be no 
completely honest comedy without them. Life itself would 
have to be condemned as sinful ; we should deny that 
anything harmonious, meiry, or sweet could be made of 
it, either in the world or on the stage. If we made any 
concession to art at all, on the same grounds as to 
matrimony, it would be only in favour of tragedy, which 
should show us that all we think most amiable is an 


illusion, ending in torments and in nothingness. Wedlock 
itself would be sanctioned only grudgingly, as a concession 
to human frailty, lest a worse thing be ; and we should 
marry, if at all very sadly, with fear and trembling and 
strictly for the sake of children. Marriage would then not 
be the happy-go-lucky, tender, faithful, humorous, trying 
fatality which nature has made of it, and which comedy 

Perhaps the emancipated plebeians of the future will 
expect their comic poets to play upon sensuality as upon 
something altogether innocent and amiable : comic, too, 
because all reality is comic, and especially a phase of it 
where illusion, jollity, conceit, mishap, and chagrin follow 
one another in such quick alternation. If this subject 
could be passed by the Censor, and treated judiciously, 
it would enrich the arts and at the same time disinfect 
the mind in one of its most troubled and sullen moods, 
by giving it a merry expression. In the Arabian Nights 
I find something of this kind ; but erotic art in Europe, 
even in antiquity, seems to have been almost always , 
constrained and vicious. A man who is moralized politic- ; 
ally, as Europeans are, rather than religiously or poetically 
like Orientals, cannot treat natural things naturally. He 
respects the uttered feelings of others more than his own 
feelings unuttered, and suppresses every manifestation 
of himself which a spectator might frown upon, even if 
behind the Censor s back everybody would rejoice in it. 
So long as this social complication lasts, public art and the 
inner life have to flow separately, the one remains conven 
tional the other clouded and incoherent. If poets under 
these circumstances tried to tell the whole truth, they would 
not only offend the public but do a grave injustice to their 
theme, and fail to make it explicit, for want of discipline 
and grace of expression. It is as well that the Censor, 
by imposing silence, keeps them from attempting the 



AMONGST tragic masks may be counted all systems of 
philosophy and religion. So long as they are still plastic 
in the mind of their creator, they seem to him to wear 
the very lineaments of nature. He cannot distinguish 
the comic cast of his own thought ; yet inevitably it shows 
the hue and features of his race ; it has its curious idiom 
and constitutional grammar, its quite personal rhetoric, 
its ridiculous ignorances and incapacities, and when his 
work is finished and its expression set, and other people 
behold it, it becomes under his name one of the stock 
masks or dramatis personae of the moral world. In it 
every wrinkle of his soul is eternalized, its old dead passion 
persisted in, its open mouth, always with the same rictus, 
bawling one deaf thought for ever. Even to himself, if 
he could have seen his mind at a distance, it would have 
appeared limited and foreign, as to an old man the verses 
of his youth, or like one s own figure seen unexpectedly 
in a mirror and mistaken at first for another person. His 
own system, as much as those of others, would have 
seemed to him a mask for the truth, partial, over-emphatic, 
exaggerating one feature and distorting another, and 
above all severed from the context of nature, as a picture 
in a frame, where much may be shown with a wonderfully 
distilled beauty, yet without its substance, and without its 
changeful setting in the moving world. Yet this fate is 
in part a favour. A system, like a tell-tale glass, may reveal 
by a trick of reflection many a fact going on behind one s 
back. By it the eye of the mind travels where experience 
cannot penetrate ; it turns into a spectacle what was 
never open to sight, and it disentangles things seen from 
the personal accidents of vision. The mask is greater than 
the man. In isolating what was important and pertinent 
in his thoughts, it rescues his spirit from the contamination 
of all alien dyes, and bequeaths it to posterity such as it 
would have wished to be. 




THE voyage of Peter s Bark in search of another world has 
been less fortunate than that of Columbus. There have 
been mutinies on board ; the other world is not yet found. 
Soon after this good ship, the Saint Christopher, was 
launched from her Phoenician home-port, she had a strange 
experience very like that which legend attributes to her 
namesake, the sainted ferryman. Her freight at the 
beginning seemed to be of the lightest only living Hopes 
and daily Miracles ; and the crossing was to be very 
brief, the other shore being plainly visible at a stone s 
throw. But that promised land turned out to be a mirage, 
lying across the mouth of the port, which really opened 
out into a vast ocean. Meantime the cargo too was 
strangely transformed ; for whilst the Hopes and Miracles 
were still reputed to be on board, they were hidden from 
sight and smothered in a litter of Possessions. These 
included a great load of Books, a heavy fund of Traditions, 
and a multitude of unruly passengers, with their clamorous 
wives and children, and all sorts of provender. So over 
weighted, the Saint Christopher sank down until the waves 
almost covered her deck ; but she was staunch, like the 
wading saint when his light burden grew heavier and 
heavier, and she laboured on. 

Not only was this ship named after a saint which 
in so old a ship is no wonder but incredible as it may 
seem, her captain was a saint too Saint Simon or (since 
these vague roving people often have an alias) Saint Peter. 
He had been a fisherman by profession, and had only 
become a saint late in life ; a fact which explained his 
good seamanship and his bad language. Besides, he did 
not pretend to be a saint except in his official capacity, 
as captain, and in matters of science and navigation: 
in his private life he was frankly not impeccable, and 
deprecated any strict scrutiny of it as not to the point. 
Not only might there have been some blemishes in his 
early career, but even when in command he might have 
his faults. People enjoy doing what they can do well 



from long habit ; and he was perhaps too fond of fishing, 
of cursing, and of commanding. 

These foibles once brought upon him a serious mutiny. 
A large part of the crew, imitating his expressive speech, 
cried, " Damn the captain ! " and took to the boats, 
saying the ship was rotten and water-logged. They 
carried away with them most of the Hopes, whilst scrupu 
lously leaving the Miracles alone. In their boats and rafts 
they pulled ahead in all directions, covering the sea with 
specks for a long distance ; and the captain, after running 
down and sinking a few of them in his towering rage, got 
used to their existence, made things shipshape again on 
board, and fell to observing them, not without some 
chucklings of humour, rowing and splashing about, 
quarrelling and never getting anywhere, but often merely 
drifting and quietly fishing, much in his own old 

The worst mutiny in the Saint Christopher, however, 
was of quite another kind. The remaining crew had no 
objection to the captain they were human themselves 
and no desire to paddle their own canoes. But they got 
thoroughly weary of sailing day after day into the same 
sunset, decided that there was no El Dorado, and insisted 
clamorously on putting the ship about. But in what 
direction ? Some were for going home ; they said all 
talk of another world was nonsense, that those Hopes 
and Miracles were worthless, and that the only thing to 
do was to return to the old country and live there in the 
old way, making the best of it. But the majority said 
that such an acknowledgment of defeat and error would 
be ignominious ; and that life at home, never really happy, 
would now be doubly intolerable. They would never 
have set out on so problematical an expedition, had they 
found life possible in their native seats. But it had been 
horrible. They remembered with a shudder the cruelties 
and vanities of their ancestral heathenism. They were 
adventurers and mariners by nature. They might be now 
bewildered for a moment and discouraged in their explora 
tions, but the impulse to hope for the better and to try the 
unknown was ineradicable in their breast. 

In some of them, indeed, this brave impulse was so 


vigorous, that they now had a sudden intuition of the 
romantic principle of life, and harangued their companions 
as follows : 

" What need, O shipmates, to sail for any port ? The 
sailor is not a land animal. How we chafed and stifled 
when we lived on terra firma, pent in those horrible stone 
dungeons called houses and churches, and compelled to 
till those inert and filthy clods, year in and year out a 
most stupefying existence ! Let us sail for the sake of 
sailing. It was not in putting forth into this infinite sea 
that we were ill-advised, but only in imagining that we 
could reach an opposite shore, and that the sea was not 
infinite but hemmed about by dead land. That was a 
gross illusion. In reality there is no terra firma at all, 
but only ships and rafts more or less extensive, covered 
over with earth and trees, riding on the water. Fancy 
deceived us, when we supposed that our Farth was 
anchored in some deeper earth. It floats and drifts upon 
a bottomless flood, and will dissolve into it. Do not dream 
of any backward voyage, or of reaching home. You will 
never find that old home again ; it exists no longer. But 
this good ship of ours, with its wind-blown sails, can never 
sink and can never stop. If the banners and crosses, which 
we still fly in deference to custom, have lost their meaning 
for us, other symbols will take their place. We must not 
confuse our infinite task with the illusions that may first 
have prompted us to undertake it. A brave and an 
endless life awaits us, battling with the storms of winter ; 
in the summer days, leaping over the waves with the 
dolphins and the porpoises ; in the watches of the night 
hailing the ever -new constellations which, as we sail 
onward, will rise to greet us, and pass over our heads. For 
ocean is a river that flows unendingly, and the stars and 
clouds are exhalations attendant upon it ; they rise and 
soar in great circles perpetually before its course, like loosed 
doves before the bounding shell of Galatea." 

These words were not at all relished by the majority 
of those who listened to them. They were stay-at-homes 
by temperament, who had embarked only in the hope of 
gain, or of finding peace and plenty in some softer climate. 
They were alarmed and disgusted at what they had just 


heard, and not being quite sure that it was false, they 
denied it with some irritation. 

" What folly," they cried, " what nonsense you are talking. 
Of course it is the land that is infinite, since it is much better 
than the sea ; and the sea is no river, or its water would 
be fresh, and you know how brackish and bitter it is : 
indeed, but for the rain we have collected in pans and 
hogsheads, we should already have died of thirst. This 
sea is nothing but a stagnant lake in the midst of the 
green earth, one of the myriad salt ponds studded all 
over it ; and as for this leaky little ship, which we were 
induced to embark in only by fraud, it is not really sea 
worthy. The planks and cordage are already rotting, 
and how shall we replace them, unless we speedily sight 
land and God grant it may be a civilized country 1 And 
look there ! Is not that land on the horizon ! Through the 
clearing mists I can discern a lighthouse, quite distinctly ; 
and beyond lies a low shore, overhung with smoke. Some 
thing tells me this is the New Atlantis described by Bacon. 
A prosperous and populous city, full of docks and factories, 
where we shall find everything needful warehouses, shops, 
inns, theatres, baths, even churches and chapels of every 
sect and denomination. What joy ! " 

This sight was so welcome to those heartsick passengers, 
that they could not wait for the ship to make fast, though 
they steered her straight for the coast, but jumped over 
board and eagerly swam ashore. Their example was 
contagious. The other party could not bear to be left 
behind without experiencing the new life, whatever it 
might bring. They reflected that as the land was really a 
part of the sea, it was not bad seamanship sometimes to 
run aground, that in leaving the ship they would, in a 
higher sense, be continuing their voyage, and that they 
would not be true to the supreme principle of their 
philosophy, which was absolute free-will, if they did not 
often change their principles in minor matters. The chief 
point was to experience everything. They did not regret 
the past, as did their narrow-minded positivistic friends, 
simply because it had involved hardships and errors. 
Hardships and errors were blessings, if you could only 
outgrow them ; and they, in their splendid vitality, knew 


how to outgrow everything. Sacred history, classic fable, 
chivalry, and the cure of one s soul had, in that former 
age, proved absorbing themes for the fancy, and had 
exquisitely modulated the emotions ; but the fountain 
of those emotions had always been their own breast, and 
since after such dramatic adventures their breast remained 
deeply unsatisfied, it was time to look again narrowly into 
its depths to discover some newer and truer way of ex 
pressing it. Why should not the development of material 
arts be the next phase in their career ? They would not 
be less free amid the gusts and the billows of politics than 
they had been in their marine adventure ; commerce would 
offer them glorious opportunities to exercise their will 
power and their invention ; infinite vistas, here too, were 
open before them : cities always more populous, possessions 
always more varied, instruments always more wonderful, 
and labour always more intense. 

The romantic party accordingly joined the lovers of 
material progress in their new city, called Mechanapolis : 
but the old opposition in their temperaments remained 
undiminished. The lovers of adventure wanted machines 
in order to make war, and the lovers of thrift wanted 
peace in order to make other machines. 

Meantime Peter the captain, with much grumbling and 
shaking of his grey beard, had got the old Saint Christopher 
afloat again, and accompanied still by a faithful boatswain 
and cook, and some nondescript recruits that he had got 
together, set out again to sea, in search of that other land 
beyond the ocean which is called heaven. And every 
evening with a trembling finger he pointed to it in the 
setting sun, not seeing that heaven was above his head. 


WHEN ancient peoples defended what they called their 
liberty, the word stood for a plain and urgent interest of 
theirs : that their cities should not be destroyed, their 
territory pillaged, and they themselves sold into slavery. 


For the Greeks in particular liberty meant even more 
than this. Perhaps the deepest assumption of classic philo 
sophy is that nature and the gods on the one hand and 
man on the other, both have a fixed character ; that there 
is consequently a necessary piety, a true philosophy, a 
standard happiness, a normal art. The Greeks believed, 
not without reason, that they had grasped these permanent 
principles better than other peoples. They had largely 
dispelled superstition, experimented in government, and 
turned life into a rational art. Therefore when they 
defended their liberty what they defended was not merely 
freedom to live. It was freedom to live well, to live as 
other nations did not, in the public experimental study of 
the world and of human nature. This liberty to discover 
and pursue a natural happiness, this liberty to grow wise 
and to live in friendship with the gods and with one another, 
was the liberty vindicated at Thermopylae by martyrdom 
and at Salamis by victory. 

As Greek cities stood for liberty in the world, so 
philosophers stood for liberty in the Greek cities. In 
both cases it was the same kind of liberty, not freedom to 
wander at hazard or to let things slip, but on the contrary 
freedom to legislate more precisely, at least for oneself, 
and to discover and codify the means to true happiness. 
Many of these pioneers in wisdom were audacious radicals 
and recoiled from no paradox. Some condemned what 
was most Greek : mythology, athletics, even multiplicity 
and physical motion. In the heart of those thriving, 
loquacious, festive little ant-hills, they preached impassi 
bility and abstraction, the unanswerable scepticism of 
silence. Others practised a musical and priestly refinement 
of life, filled with metaphysical mysteries, and formed 
secret societies, not without a tendency to political 
domination. The cynics railed at the conventions, making 
themselves as comfortable as possible in the rdle of 
beggars and mocking parasites. The conservatives them 
selves were radical, so intelligent were they, and Plato 
wrote the charter of the most extreme militarism and 
communism, for the sake of preserving the free state. It 
was the swan-song of liberty, a prescription to a diseased 
old man to become young again and try a second life 


of superhuman virtue. The old man preferred simply 
to die. 

Many laughed then, as we may be tempted to do, at 
all those absolute physicians of the soul, each with his 
panacea. Yet beneath their quarrels the wranglers had a 
common faith. They all believed there was a single solid 
natural wisdom to be found, that reason could find it, and 
that mankind, sobered by reason, could put it in practice. 
Mankind has continued to run wild and like barbarians to 
place freedom in their very wildness, till we can hardly < 
conceive the classic assumption of Greek philosophers and 
cities, that true liberty is bound up with an institution, a 
corporate scientific discipline, necessary to set free the 
perfect man, or the god, within us. 

Upon the dissolution of paganism the Christian church 
adopted the classic conception of liberty. Of course, the 
field in which the higher politics had to operate was now 
conceived differently, and there was a new experience of 
the sort of happiness appropriate and possible to man ; 
but the assumption remained unchallenged that Providence, 
as well as the human soul, had a fixed discoverable scope, 
and that the business of education, law, and religion was 
to bring them to operate in harmony. The aim of life, 
salvation, was involved in the nature of the soul itself, 
and the means of salvation had been ascertained by a 
positive science which the church was possessed of, partly 
revealed and partly experimental. Salvation was simply 
what, on a broad view, we should see to be health, and 
religion was nothing but a sort of universal hygiene. 

The church, therefore, little as it tolerated heretical 
liberty, the liberty of moral and intellectual dispersion, felt 
that it had come into the world to set men free, and 
constantly demanded liberty for itself, that it might fulfil 
this mission. It was divinely commissioned to teach, guide, 
and console all nations and all ages by the self-same 
means, and to promote at all costs what it conceived to 
be human perfection. There should be saints and as many 
saints as possible. The church never admitted, any more 
than did any sect of ancient philosophers, that its teaching 
might represent only an eccentric view of the world, or 
that its guidance and consolations might be suitable only 


at one stage of human development. To waver in the 
pursuit of the orthodox ideal could only betray frivolity 
and want of self-knowledge. The truth of things and the 
happiness of each man could not lie elsewhere than where 
the church, summing up all human experience and all 
divine revelation, had placed it once for all and for every 
body. The liberty of the church to fulfil its mission was 
accordingly hostile to any liberty of dispersion, to any 
radical consecutive independence, in the life of individuals 
or of nations. 

When it came to full fruition this orthodox freedom was 
far from gay ; it was called sanctity. The freedom of 
pagan philosophers too had turned out to be rather a stiff 
and severe pose ; but in the Christian dispensation this 
austerity of true happiness was less to be wondered at, 
since life on earth was reputed to be abnormal from the 
beginning, and infected with hereditary disease. The fall 
beauty and joy of restored liberty could hardly become 
evident in this life. Nevertheless a certain beauty and 
joy did radiate visibly from the saints ; and while we 
may well think their renunciations and penances misguided 
or excessive, it is certain that, like the Spartans and the 
philosophers, they got something for their pains. Their 
bodies and souls were transfigured, as none now found 
upon earth. If we admire without imitating them we shall 
perhaps have done their philosophy exact justice. Classic 
liberty was a sort of forced and artificial liberty, a poor 
perfection reserved for an ascetic aristocracy in whom 
heroism and refinement were touched with perversity and 
slowly starved themselves to death. 

Since those days we have discovered how much larger 
the universe is, and we have lost our way in it. Any day 
it may come over us again that our modern liberty to drift 
in the dark is the most terrible negation of freedom. 
Nothing happens to us as we would. We want peace and 
make war. We need science and obey the will to believe, 
we love art and flounder among whimsicalities, we believe 
in general comfort and equality and we strain every nerve 
to become millionaires. After all, antiquity must have 
been right in thinking that reasonable self -direction must 
rest on having a determinate character and knowing what 


it is, and that only the truth about God and happiness, if 
we somehow found it, could make us free. But the truth 
is not to be found by guessing at it, as religious prophets 
and men of genius have done, and then damning every one 
who does not agree. Human nature, for all its substantial 
fixity, is a living thing with many varieties and variations. 
All diversity of opinion is therefore not founded on 
ignorance ; it may express a legitimate change of habit or 
interest. The classic and Christian synthesis from which 
we have broken loose was certainly premature, even if the 
only issue of our liberal experiments should be to lead us 
back to some such equilibrium. Let us hope at least that 
the new morality, when it comes, may be more broadly 
based than the old on knowledge of the world, not so 
absolute, not so meticulous, and not chanted so much in 
the monotone of an abstracted sage. 


THERE is a fine theory of Hegel s that the universe exists 
in order to realize freedom. In Oriental despotisms, he 
tells us, only one man was free. In ancient republican cities 
a minority, the aristocracy of citizens, obtained freedom. 
Now at last freedom has extended to all ; not, however, as 
we might fondly suppose, in free and casual America, but 
under the perfect organization of the Prussian monarchy. 
For freedom in the mouth of German philosophers has a 
very special meaning. It does not refer to any possibility 
of choice nor to any private initiative. It means rather 
that sense of freedom which we acquire when we do gladly 
and well what we should have to do anyhow, as when 
in passing from a close room into the open air we say we 
breathe freely at last. German freedom is like the freedom 
of the angels in heaven who see the face of God and cannot 
sin. It lies in such a deep love and understanding of what 
is actually established that you would not have it other 
wise ; you appropriate and bless it all and feel it to be 
the providential expression of your own spirit. You are 


enlarged by sympathy with your work, your country, and 
the universe, until you are no longer conscious of the least 
distinction between the Creator, the state, and yourself. 
Your compulsory service then becomes perfect freedom. 

For liberal freedom, for individualism, these philosophers 
have a great contempt. They say a man is nothing but 
the sum of his relations to other things, and if he should 
throw off one after another these constitutive bonds, he 
would find his private residuum of a self to be a mathe 
matical point and a naked cipher, incapable of willing or of 
choosing anything. And they further say that a dutiful 
soul is right in feeling that the world it accepts and co 
operates with is its own work ; for, according to their 
metaphysics, the world is only an idea which each man 
makes after his own image, and even as you are, so is the 
world you imagine you live in. Only a foolish recalcitrant 
person, who does not recognize the handiwork of his own 
spirit about him, rebels against it, and thereby cancels 
his natural freedom ; for everywhere he finds contradic 
tions and closed doors and irksome necessities, being divided 
against himself and constantly bidding his left hand undo 
what his right hand is doing. So that, paradoxical as it 
may seem, it is only when you conform that you are free, 
while if you rebel and secede you become a slave. Your 
spiritual servitude in such a case would only be manifesting 
itself in a phenomenal form if the government should put 
you in prison. 

The national expression of this kind of freedom is what 
the Germans call Kultur, a word not well understood in 
other countries. Every nation has certain characteristic 
institutions, certain representative writers and statesmen, 
past and present, certain forms of art and industry, a 
certain type of policy and moral inspiration. These are 
its Kultur, its national tradition and equipment. When 
by education the individual is brought to understand all 
these things, to share their spirit and life, and to be able 
to carry them forward faithfully, then he has absorbed 
the Kultur in his own person. Kultur is transmitted by 
systematic education. It is not, like culture, a matter of 
miscellaneous private attainments and refined tastes, but, 
rather, participation in a national purpose and in the 


means of executing it. The adept in this Kultur can live 
freely the life of his country, possessing its secret inspiration, 
valuing what it pursues and finding his happiness in those 
successes which he can help it to attain. Kultur is a lay 
religion, which includes ecclesiastical religion and assigns 
to it its due place. 

German Kultur resembles the polity of ancient cities 
and of the Christian church in that it constitutes a definite, 
authoritative, earnest discipline, a training which is 
practical and is thought to be urgent and momentous. 
It is a system to be propagated and to be imposed. It is 
all-inclusive and demands entire devotion from everybody. 
At the same time it has this great advantage over the 
classic systems, that it admits variations. At Sparta, 
in Plato s Republic, and in the Catholic church the aims 
and constitution of society were expected to remain always 
the same. The German ideal, on the contrary, not only 
admits evolution, but insists upon it. Like music, it is 
essentially a form of movement. According to the 
philosophers, however, the form of this movement is fixed 
by the absolute genius of the composer, and prescribes 
the way in which the changes shall go on. Evolution thus 
introduces life into this ideal, but does not admit am 
biguities. In this sense the German law of progression 
is as inexorable as the classic model of form. 

The more reasonable theorists of German Kultur 
introduce another qualification, which, if admitted, is of 
the greatest importance, namely, that German Kultur is 
not to be extended to other nations. Some make a special 
point of contrasting the universal claims of the Roman 
and Napoleonic empires and of the Catholic church with 
the aspirations of German genius, which, they say, is infinite 
inwardly, being capable of endless growth and modification 
by men of Teutonic blood, yet is limited externally or in 
space, in that it is not communicable to other races. Non- 
Teutons should never be summoned, therefore, to acquire 
the German spirit, which they would only pollute. Their 
proper r61e is rather to stand by, no doubt overawed and 
filled with admiration, but left without hope or fear of 
being assimilated. Yet as the church could admit that 
there might be unconscious and virtual Christians among 


the heathen, who might by exception be saved, so there 
may be sporadic manifestations of Teutonic genius in 
unforeseen quarters. Shakespeare, Dante, and Christ 
were virtual and unconscious Germans. 

There is, of course, a less indulgent Germanism, which 
has on its side the authority of Fichte and Hegel, the 
enthusiasm of the pan-Germans and that lust for boundless 
ascendancy which enterprise and war naturally foster in 
anybody who has carried them on passionately and success 
fully. According to this stricter view, the whole world 
is to be subjugated and purified by the German nation, 
which alone inherits the undefiled language and religion 
of Eden, and must assign to the remaining Creole races, 
descended from savages and ultimately perhaps from 
monkeys or devils, such tasks as they are capable of. 
The masters, being by nature generous and kind, will 
\ allow their slaves, after their work is done, to bask in 
\ despicable happiness, since happiness is all that slaves are 
capable of living for ; but they will be proudly commanded 
by a race of hard, righteous, unhappy, heroic German 
experts, with blue eyes fixed on the eternal ideal. 

The admission that German Kultur is merely national, 
which might seem to promise peace and goodwill, may 
be turned in this way into a sinister claim to absolute 
dominion. The ancients and the church had supposed 
that all men, though endowed with talent and goodness 
in the most various degrees, had qualitatively the same 
nature. The same passions, the same arts, and the same 
salvation were proper to them all. The servant, in further 
ing the aims of his betters, served what his own soul 
potentially loved and was capable of appropriating ; there 
could be religion and love in his subordination. Recipro 
cally the master could feel respect and affection for his 
servants, who were his wards and his god-children. The 
best things in classic life religion, poetry, comradeship, 
moral sagacity were shared by the humblest classes and 
expressed their genius. The temple, the church, the agora, 
the theatre, Socrates, and the saints were of the people. 

German Kultur, on the contrary, boasts that it is not 
the expression of diffused human nature, but the product 
of a special and concentrated free will. It is therefore 


incommunicable, unrepresentative. It is not felt by 
any one else to realize his ideal, but seems foreign to 
him, forced and unamiable. Every nation loves its 
idiosyncrasies and, until it reflects, thinks its own balance 
of faculties, like its language, more natural than other 
people s. But the prophets of Germanism have turned 
this blameless love of home and its sanctities into a 
deliberate dogma that everything German has a divine 
superiority. This dogma they have foisted on a flattered 
and trustful nation, with the command to foist it on the 
rest of the world. The fatuity of this is nothing new, many 
nations and religions having shared it in their day, and 
we could afford to laugh at it, if by direct and indirect 
coercion it did not threaten to trespass upon our liberties. 
What is universally acceptable in German Kultur is 
what it contains that is not German but human, what with 
praiseworthy docility it has borrowed from the ancients, 
from Christianity, from the less intentional culture of its 
modern neighbours. The Teutonic accent which these 
elements have acquired is often very engaging ; it adds to 
them a Gothic charm for the lack of which mankind would 
be the poorer. But the German manner, in art, in philo 
sophy, in government, is no better in its broad appeal to 
human nature we may fairly say it is worse than the 
classic manner which it hopes to supersede. It is avowedly 
a product of will, arbitrary, national, strained ; it is not 
superior to what other nations possess or may create but 
only different, not advanced but eccentric. To study it 
and use it for a stimulus may be profitable in times and 
places of spiritual famine or political chaos, but to impose it 
as normal, not to say as supreme, would be a plain invasion 
of human liberty. 


MODERN reformers, religious and political, have usually 
retained the classic theory of orthodoxy, namely, that 
there is one right or true system democracy and free 
thought, for instance which it is the reformer s duty to 


establish in the place of prevalent abuses. Certainly 
Luther and Calvin and the doctrinaires of the French 
revolution only meant to substitute one orthodoxy for 
another, and what they set forth they regarded as valid 
for all men and forever. Nevertheless they had a greater 
success in discrediting the received system than in establish 
ing their own, and the general effect of their reforms was 
to introduce the modern conception of liberty, the liberty 
of liberalism. 

This consists in limiting the prescriptions of the law 
to a few points, for the most part negative, leaving it to 
the initiative and conscience of individuals to order their 
life and conversation as they like, provided only they do 
not interfere with the same freedom in others. In practice 
liberal countries have never reached this ideal of peaceful 
anarchy, but have continued to enforce state education, 
monogamy, the vested rights of property, and sometimes 
military service. But within whatever limits, liberty is 
understood to lie in the individual being left alone, so that 
he may express his personal impulses as he pleases in word 
and action. 

A philosopher can readily see that this liberal ideal 
implies a certain view about the relations of man in the 
universe. It implies that the ultimate environment, divine 
or natural, is either chaotic in itself or undiscoverable by 
human science, and that human nature, too, is either 
radically various or only determinable in a few essentials, 
round which individual variations play ad libitum. For 
this reason no normal religion, science, art, or way of 
happiness can be prescribed. These remain always open, 
even in their foundations, for each man to arrange for 
himself. The more things are essentially unsettled and 
optional, the more liberty of this sort there may safely 
be in the world and the deeper it may run. 

Man, however, is a gregarious animal, and much more 
so in his mind than in his body. He may like to go alone 
for a walk, but hates to stand alone in his opinions. And 
he is so imitative that what he thinks he most wishes to 
do is whatever he sees other people doing. Hence if 
compulsory organization disappears a thousand free and 
private organizations at once take its place. Virginal 


liberty is good only to be surrendered at the right time to 
a right influence. A state in which government is limited 
to police duty must allow churches, universities (with 
millionaires to found them), public sports, private charities, 
masonic or monastic orders, and every other sort of party 
institution, to flourish within it unhindered ; otherwise 
that state would hardly be civilized and nothing of import 
ance would ever be done in it. Yet the prevalence of such 
free associations will jeopardize the perfect liberty which 
individuals are supposed to enjoy. Private organizations 
are meddlesome ; if they cannot impose themselves by 
force, they insinuate themselves by propaganda, and no 
paternal government ever exerted so pervasive and 
indiscreet an influence as they know how to acquire. 
Fashions in speech or clothes are harder to evade than 
any laws, and religion, when it is chosen and sectarian, 
eats more into the soul than when it is established and 
conventional. In a society honeycombed by private 
societies a man finds his life supervised, his opportunities 
pre-empted, his conscience intimidated, and his pocket 
drained. Every one he meets informs him of a new duty 
and presents him with a new subscription list. At every 
turn he must choose between being incorporated or being 
ostracized. Indeed, the worst and most radical failure in 
his fabled liberty of choice is that he never had a choice 
about his environment or about his faculties, and has to 
take his luck as to his body, his mind, his position, his 
country, and his family. Even where he may cast a vote 
his vote is far from decisive. In electing a government, 
as in selecting a wife, only two or three candidates are 
commonly available, and the freeman s modest privilege 
is to declare hopefully which one he wants and then to 
put up with the one he gets. 

If liberalism had been a primitive system, with no 
positive institutions behind it, it would have left human 
genius in the most depressed and forlorn condition. The 
organized part of life would have been a choice among 
little servitudes, and the free personal part would have 
been a blank. Fortunately, liberal ages have been 
secondary ages, inheriting the monuments, the feelings, 
and the social hierarchy of previous times, when men had 


lived in compulsory unison, having only one unquestioned 
religion, one style of art, one political order, one common 
spring of laughter and tears. Liberalism has come to 
remove the strain and the trammels of these traditions 
without as yet uprooting the traditions themselves. Most 
people retain their preliberal heritage and hardly remember 
that they are legally free to abandon it and to sample 
any and every other form of life. Liberalism does not 
go very deep ; it is an adventitious principle, a mere 
loosening of an older structure. For that reason it brings 
to all who felt cramped and ill-suited such comfort and 
relief. It offers them an escape from all sorts of accidental 
tyrannies. It opens to them that sweet, scholarly, tenderly 
moral, critically superior attitude of mind which Matthew 
Arnold called culture. 

Primitive, dragooned, unanimous ages cannot possess 
culture. What they possess is what the Germans call a 
Kultur, some type or other of manners, laws, implements, 
arts, religion. When these national possessions are per 
used and relished by some individual who does not take 
them for granted and who understands and judges them 
as if from outside, his acquaintance with them becomes 
an element in his culture ; and if he is at home in many 
such forms of life and thought, his culture is the more 
perfect. It should ideally be culled from everywhere. 
Culture is a triumph of the individual over society. It 
is his way of profiting intellectually by a world he has 
not helped to make. 

Culture requires liberalism for its foundation, and 
liberalism requires culture for its crown. It is culture 
that integrates in imagination the activities which liberalism 
so dangerously disperses in practice. Out of the public 
disarray of beliefs and efforts it gathers its private collec 
tion of curiosities, much as amateurs stock their museums 
with fragments of ancient works. It possesses a wealth of 
vicarious experience and historical insight which comforts 
it for having nothing of its own to contribute to history. 
The man of culture abounds in discriminating senti 
ments ; he lives under the distant influence of exalted 
minds ; his familiar thoughts at breakfast are intimate 
appreciations of poetry and art, and if his culture is 


really mellow, he sometimes smiles a little at his own 

Culture came into the modern world with the renaissance, 
when personal humours and remote inspiration broke in 
upon the consecrated mediaeval mind. Piety and learn 
ing had their intrinsic charms, but, after all, they had 
been cultivated for the sake of ulterior duties and benefits, 
and in order to appropriate and hand down the revealed 
wisdom which opened the way to heaven. Culture, on 
the contrary, had no ulterior purpose, no forced unity. 
It was an aroma inhaled by those who walked in the 
evening in the garden of life. Far from being a means to 
religion, it threw religion also into the context of human 
experience, and touched its mysteries and quarrels with 
judgement and elegance. It liberated the studious mind 
from obligatory or national discipline, and as far as possible 
from all bonds of time, place, utility, and co-operation, 
kindling sympathies by preference with what was most 
exotic, and compensating the mind for the ignominious 
necessity of having to be, in practical matters, local and 
partisan. Culture was courteous, open, uncons:ious of 
self ; it was the joy of living every life but one s own. 
And its moral side for everything has its moral side lay in 
the just judgements it fostered, the clear sense it awakened 
of the different qualities and values of things. The scale 
of values established by the man of culture might sometimes 
be fanciful or frivolous, but he was always most scrupulous, 
according to his lights, in distinguishing the better from 
the worse. This conscientiousness, after all, is the only 
form of morality that a liberal society can insist upon. 

The days of liberalism are numbered. First the horrors 
of competition discredited it, and now the trial of war, 
which it foolishly thought it could elude. The vogue of 
culture, too, has declined. We see that the man whose 
success is merely personal the actor, the sophist, the 
millionaire, the aesthete is incurably vulgar. The right- 
ness of liberalism is exactly proportional to the diversity 
of human nature, to its vague hold on its ideals. Where 
this vagueness and play of variation stop, and they stop 
not far below the surface, the sphere of public organization 
should begin. It is in the subsoil of uniformity, of tradition, 



of dire necessity that human welfare is rooted, together 
with wisdom and unaffected art, and the flowers of culture 
that do not draw their sap from that soil are only paper 


To the mind of the ancients, who knew something of such 
matters, liberty and prosperity seemed hardly compatible, 
yet modern liberalism wants them together. Liberals 
believe that free inquiry, free invention, free association, 
and free trade are sure to produce prosperity. I have no 
doubt they are right in this ; the nineteenth century, 
that golden age of liberalism, certainly saw a great increase 
in wealth, in science, and in comforts. What the ancients 
had before them was a different side of the question ; 
they had no experience of liberalism ; they expected to be 
state-ridden in their religion, their customs, and their 
military service ; even in their personal and family morals 
they did not begrudge the strictest discipline ; their states 
needed to be intensely unified, being small and in constant 
danger of total destruction. Under these circumstances 
it seemed clear to them that prosperity, however it might 
have been produced, was dangerous to liberty. Prosperity 
brought power ; and when a people exercises control over 
other peoples its government becomes ponderous even at 
home ; its elaborate machinery cannot be stopped, and 
can hardly be mended ; the imperial people becomes the 
slave of its commitments. Moreover, prosperity requires 
inequalities of function and creates inequalities of fortune ; 
and both too much work and too much wealth kill liberty 
in the individual. They involve subjection to things ; 
and this is contrary to what the ancients, who had the 
pride of noble animals, called freedom. Prosperity, both 
for individuals and for states, means possessions ; and 
possessions mean burdens and harness and slavery ; and 
slavery for the mind, too, because it is not only the rich 
man s time that is pre-empted, but his affections, his 
judgement, and the range of his thoughts. 


I often wonder, looking at my rich friends, how far their 
possessions are facilities and how far they are impediments. 
The telephone, for instance, is a facility if you wish to be 
in many places at once and to attend to anything that 
may turn up ; it is an impediment if you are happy where 
you are and in what you are doing. Public motor-vehicles, 
public libraries, and public attendants (such as waiters in 
hotels, when they wait) are a convenience, which even 
the impecunious may enjoy ; but private automobiles, 
private collections of books or pictures, and private servants 
are, to my thinking, an encumbrance : but then I am an old 
fogy and almost an ancient philosopher, and I don t count. 
I prize civilization, being bred in towns and liking to hear 
and to see what new things people are up to. I like to 
walk about amidst the beautiful things that adorn the 
world ; but private wealth I should decline, or any sort 
of personal possessions, because they would take away my 

Perhaps what liberalism aspires to marry with liberty 
is not so much prosperity as progress. Progress means 
continued change for the better ; and it is obvious that 
liberty will conduce to progress in all those things, such as 
writing poetry, which a man can pursue without aid or 
interference from others : where aid is requisite and 
interference probable, as in politics, liberty conduces to 
progress only in so far as people are unanimous, and 
spontaneously wish to move in the same direction. Now 
what is the direction of change which seems progress to 
liberals ? A pure liberal might reply, The direction of 
liberty itself : the ideal is that every man should move 
in whatever direction he likes, with the aid of such as 
agree with him, and without interfering with those who 
disagree. Liberty so conceived would be identical with 
happiness, with spontaneous life, blamelessly and safely 
lived ; and the impulse of liberalism, to give everybody 
what he wants, in so far as that is possible, would be 
identical with simple kindness. Benevolence was one of 
the chief motives in liberalism in the beginning, and many 
a liberal is still full of kindness in his private capacity ; but 
politically, as a liberal, he is something more than kind. 
The direction in which many, or even most, people would 


like to move fills him with disgust and indignation ; he 
does not at all wish them to be happy, unless they can be 
happy on his own diet ; and being a reformer and a 
philanthropist, he exerts himself to turn all men into the 
sort of men he likes, so as to be able to like them. It 
would be selfish, he thinks, to let people alone. They 
must be helped, and not merely helped to what they 
desire that might really be very bad for them but helped 
onwards, upwards, in the right direction. Progress could 
not be rightly placed in a smaller population, a simpler 
economy, more moral diversity between nations, and 
stricter moral discipline in each of them. That would be 
progress backwards, and if it made people happier, it 
would not make the liberal so. Progress, if it is to please 
him, must continue in the direction in which the nine 
teenth century progressed, towards vast numbers, material 
complexity, moral uniformity, and economic interdepend 
ence. The best little boy, for instance, according to the 
liberal ideal, desires to be washed, to go to school, 
to do Swedish exercises, and to learn everything out of 
books. But perhaps the individual little boy (and accord 
ing to the liberal philosophy his individuality is sacred, 
and the only judge of what is good or true for him is his 
own consciousness) desires to go dirty, to make mud-pies 
in the street, and to learn everything by experience or by 
report from older boys. When the philanthropist runs 
up to the rescue, this little ingrate snivels at him the 
very principle of liberal liberty, " Let me alone." To 
inform such an urchin that he does not know what is good 
for him, that he is a slave to bad habits and devilish 
instincts, that true freedom for him can only come of 
correcting himself, until he has learned to find happiness 
in virtue plainly that would be to abandon liberalism, 
and to preach the classical doctrine that the good is not 
liberty but wisdom. Liberalism was a protest against 
just such assumptions of authority. It emphatically 
refused to pursue an eventual stoical freedom, absurdly 
so called, which was to come when we had given up every 
thing we really wanted the mock freedom of service. 
In the presence of the little boy liberal philosophy takes a 
middle course. It is convinced though it would not do 


to tell him so prematurely that he must be allowed to 
go dirty for a time, until sufficient experience of filth teaches 
him how much more comfortable it is to be clean ; also 
that he will go to school of his own accord if the books 
have pictures enough in them, and if the teacher begins 
by showing him how to make superior mud-pies. As to 
morals and religion, the boy and his companions will 
evolve the appropriate ones in time out of their own 
experience, and no others would be genuine. 

Liberal philosophy, at this point, ceases to be empirical 
and British in order to become German and transcendental. 
Moral life, it now believes, is not the pursuit of liberty 
and happiness of all sorts by all sorts of different creatures ; 
it is the development of a single spirit in all life through a 
series of necessary phases, each higher than the preceding 
one. No man, accordingly, can really or ultimately desire 
anything but what the best people desire. This is the 
principle of the higher snobbery ; and in fact, all earnest 
liberals are higher snobs. If you refuse to move in the 
prescribed direction, you are not simply different, you are 
arrested and perverse. The savage must not remain a 
savage, nor the nun a nun, and China must not keep its 
wall. If the animals remain animals it is somehow through 
a failure of the will in them, and very sad. Classic liberty, 
though only a name for stubborn independence, and 
obedience to one s own nature, was too free, in one way, 
for the modern liberal. It accepted all sorts of perfections, 
animal, human, and divine, as final after their kind, each 
the seat of a sufficient virtue and happiness. It was 
polytheistic. Between master and slave, between man 
and woman, it admitted no moral advance or develop 
ment ; they were, or might be, equally perfect. Inequality 
was honourable ; amongst the humblest there could be 
dignity and sweetness ; the higher snobbery would have 
been absurd, because if you were not content to be what 
you were now, how could you ever be content with any 
thing ? But the transcendental principle of progress is 
pantheistic. It requires everything to be ill at ease in 
its own house ; no one can be really free or happy but 
all must be tossed, like herded emigrants, on the same 
compulsory voyage, to the same unhomely destination. 


The world came from a nebula, and to a nebula it returns. 
In the interval, happiness is not to be found in being a fixed 
star, as bright and pure as possible, even if only for a 
season ; happiness is to flow and dissolve in sympathy 
with one s higher destiny. 

The notion of progress is thus merged with that of 
universal evolution, dropping the element of liberty and 
even of improvement. Nevertheless, in the political 
expression of liberalism, liberty took the first innings. 
Protestants began by asserting the right of private judge 
ment in interpreting scripture ; transcendentajists ended 
by asserting the divine right of the individual to impose 
his own spirit on everything he touched. His duty to 
himself, which was also his deepest instinct, was to suck 
in from the widest possible field all that was congenial to 
him, and to reject, down to his very centre, whatever 
might thwart or offend. Sometimes he carried his con 
sistency in egotism to the length of denying that anything 
he could not digest could possibly exist, or that the material 
world and foreign nations were more than ideal pawns 
in the game he played with himself for his self -development. 
Even when not initiated into these transcendental mysteries, 
he was filled with practical self-trust, the desire to give 
himself freedom, and the belief that he deserved it. There 
was no need of exploring anything he was not tempted 
to explore ; he had an equal right to his opinion, whatever 
the limits of his knowledge ; and he should be coerced as 
little as possible in his action. In specific matters, for the 
sake of expediency, he might be willing to yield to the 
majority ; but only when his vote had been counted, and as 
a sort of insurance against being disturbed in his residual 

There was a general conviction behind all these maxims, 
that tradition corrupts experience. All sensation which 
is the test of matters of fact is somebody s sensation ; all 
reasoning is somebody s reasoning, and vitally persuasive 
as it first comes ; but when transmitted the evidence loses 
its edge, words drop their full meaning, and inert conven 
tions falsify the insights of those who had instituted them. 
Therefore, reform, revision, restatement are perpetually 
required : any individual, according to this view, who 


honestly corrected tradition was sure to improve upon it. 
Whatsoever was not the fresh handiwork of the soul and 
true to its present demand was bad for that soul. A 
man without traditions, if he could only be materially 
well equipped, would be purer, more rational, more 
virtuous than if he had been an heir to anything. Weh dir, 
dass du ein Enkel bist ! Blessed are the orphans, for they 
shall deserve to have children ; blessed the American ! 
Philosophy should be transcendental, history romantic and 
focussed in one s own country, politics democratic, and 
art individual and above convention. Variety in religious 
dogma would only prove the truth that is, the inwardness 
of inspiration. 

Yet if this transcendental freedom had been the whole 
of liberalism, would not the animals, such of them at 
least as are not gregarious, have been the most perfect 
liberals ? Are they not ruled wholly from within ? Do 
they not enjoy complete freedom of conscience and of 
expression ? Does Mrs. Grundy interfere with their 
spontaneous actions ? Are they ever compelled to fight 
except by their own impulse and in their private interest ? 
Yet it was not the ideal of liberalism to return to nature ; 
far from it. It admonished the dogs not to bark and bite, 
even if, in the words of the sacred poet, " it is their nature 
to." Dogs, according to transcendental philosophy, ought 
to improve their nature, and to behave better. A chief 
part of the liberal inspiration was the love of peace, safety, 
comfort, and general information ; it aimed at stable 
wealth, it insisted on education, it venerated culture. It 
was wholly out of sympathy with the wilder instincts of 
man, with the love of foraging, of hunting, of fighting, of 
plotting, of carousing, or of doing penance. It had an 
acute, a sickening horror of suffering ; to be cruel was 
devilish and to be hardened to pain was brutal. I am 
afraid liberalism was hopelessly pre-Nietzschean ; it was 
Victorian ; it was tame. In inviting every man to be 
free and autonomous it assumed that, once free, he would 
wish to be rich, to be educated, and to be demure. How 
could he possibly fail to covet a way of life which, in the 
eyes of liberals, was so obviously the best ? It must have 
been a painful surprise to them, and most inexplicable, 


that hardly anybody who has had a taste of the liberal 
system has ever liked it. 

What about liberty in love ? If there is one ingenuous 
and winged creature among the immortals, it is Eros ; 
the freer and more innocent love is, the more it will flutter, 
the farther it will range, and the higher it will soar. But 
at the touch of matter, of conditions, of consequences, 
how all its freedom shrivels, or turns into tragedy ! What 
prohibitions, what hypocrisies, what responsibilities, what 
sorrows ! The progress of civilization compels love to 
respect the limits set to it by earlier vows, by age, sex, 
class, race, religion, blood relationship, and even fictitious 
relationship ; bounds of which the impertinent Eros him 
self knows nothing. Society smothers the imp altogether 
in the long christening-clothes of domestic affection and 
religious duty. What was once a sensuous intoxication, 
a mystic rapture, an enchanted friendship, becomes all a 
question of money, of habit, of children. British liberalism 
has been particularly cruel to love ; in the Victorian era all 
its amiable impulses were reputed indecent, until a marriage 
certificate suddenly rendered them godly, though still 
unmentionable. And what liberty does even the latest 
radicalism offer to the heart ? Liberty to be divorced ; 
divorced at great expense, with shabby perjuries and 
public scandal, probably in order to be at once married 
again, until the next divorce. Was it not franker and 
nobler to leave love, as in Spain, to the poets ; to let the 
stripling play the guitar as much as he liked in the moon 
light, exchange passionate glances, whisper daily at the 
lattice, and then, dressing the bride in black, to dismiss 
free fancy at the church door, saying : Henceforth let 
thy names be charity and fidelity and obedience ? 

It is not politics that can bring true liberty to the soul ; 
that must be achieved, if at all, by philosophy ; but 
liberalism may bring large opportunities for achievement 
in a man s outward life. It intensifies because it renders 
attainable the lure of public distinction, of luxury, of 
love surrounded by refined pleasures. The liberal state 
stimulates the imagination of an ambitious man to the 
highest degree. Those who have a good start in the 
universal competition, or sharp wits, or audacity, will 


find plenty of prizes awaiting them. With the pride of 
wealth, when it is great, there comes the pride of 
munificence ; in the suburbs of wealth there is culture, 
and in its service there is science. When science can 
minister to wealth and intelligence to dominion, both can 
be carried on the shoulders of the plutocracy which 
dominates the liberal state ; and they can fill it with 
innumerable comforts and marvellous inventions. At the 
same time, nothing will hinder the weaker members of 
rich families from becoming clergymen or even scholars 
or artists ; or they may range over the five continents, 
hunt whatever wild beasts remain in the jungle, and write 
books about savages. 

Whether these prizes offered by liberal society are worth 
winning, I cannot say from experience, never having desired 
them ; but the aspects of modern life which any one may 
observe, and the analytic picture of it which the novelists 
supply, are not very attractive. Wealth is always, even 
when most secure, full of itch and fear ; worry about 
health, children, religion, marriage, servants ; and the 
awful question of where to live, when one may live any 
where, and yet all seems to depend on the choice. For 
the politician, politics are less important than his private 
affairs, and less interesting than bridge ; and he has always 
a party, or a wicked opposition, on which to throw the 
blame if his careless measures turn out badly. No one in 
office can be a true statesman, because a true statesman 
is consistent, and public opinion will never long support 
any consistent course. What the successful man in 
modern society really most cares about is love ; love for 
him is a curious mixture of sensuality, vanity, and friend 
ship ; it lights up all the world of his thought and action 
with its secret and unsteady flame. Even when mutual and 
legal, it seems to be three-quarters anxiety and sorrow ; 
for if nothing worse happens to lovers, they grow old. I 
hear no laughter among the rich which is not forced and 
nervous. I find no sense of moral security amongst them, no 
happy freedom, no mastery over anything. Yet this is the 
very cream of liberal life, the brilliant success for the sake 
of which Christendom was overturned, and the dull peasantry 
elevated into factory-hands, shopkeepers, and chauffeurs. 


When the lists are open to all, and the one aim of life 
is to live as much as possible like the rich, the majority 
must needs be discouraged. The same task is proposed 
to unequal strengths, and the competition emphasizes 
the inequality. There was more encouragement for 
mediocre people when happiness was set before them in 
mediocrity, or in excellence in some special craft. Now 
the mass, hopelessly out of the running in the race for 
wealth, falls out and drifts into squalor. Since there is 
liberty, the listless man will work as little and drink as 
much as he can ; he will crawl into whatever tenement 
he can get cheapest, seek the society in which least effort 
is demanded and least shame is felt, have as many children 
as improvidence sends him, let himself out, at a pinch, 
for whatever service and whatever wages he can obtain, 
drift into some syndicated servitude or some great migra 
tion, or sink in solitude into the deepest misery. He then 
becomes a denizen of those slimy quarters, under the shadow 
of railway bridges, breweries, and gas-works, where the 
blear lights of a public -house peer through the rain at 
every corner, and offer him the one joy remaining in life ; 
for Joy is not to be mentioned in the same breath as the 
female prowling by the door, hardly less befuddled and 
bedraggled than the lurching idlers whom she endeavours 
to entice ; but perhaps God does not see all this, because 
a pall hangs over it perpetually of impenetrable smoke. 
The liberal system, which sought to raise the individual, 
has degraded the masses ; and this on so vast a scale and 
to so pitiable a degree, that the other element in liberalism, 
philanthropic zeal, has come again to the fore. Liberty go 
hang, say the new radicals ; let us save the people. Liberal 
legislation, which was to have reduced government to the 
minimum of police control, now has undertaken public educa 
tion, social reform, and even the management of industry. 

This happy people can read. It supports a press 
conforming to the tastes of the common man, or rather to 
such tastes as common men can have in common ; for the 
best in each is not diffused enough to be catered for in 
public. Moreover, this press is audaciously managed by 
some adventitious power, which guides it for its own 
purposes, commercial or sectarian. Superstitions old and 


new thrive in this infected atmosphere ; they are now all 
treated with a curious respect, as if nobody could have 
anything to object to them. It is all a scramble of 
prejudices and rumours ; whatever first catches the ear 
becomes a nucleus for all further presumptions and 
sympathies. Advertising is the modern substitute for 
argument, its function is to make the worse appear the 
better article. A confused competition of all propagandas 
those insults to human nature is carried on by the 
most expert psychological methods, which the art of 
advertising has discovered ; for instance, by always 
repeating a lie, when it has been exposed, instead of 
retracting it. The world at large is deafened ; but each 
propaganda makes its little knot of proselytes, and inspires 
them with a new readiness to persecute and to suffer in 
the sacred cause. The only question is, which propaganda 
can first materially reach the greatest number of persons, 
and can most efficaciously quench all the others. At 
present, it looks as if the German, the Catholic, and the 
communist propaganda had the best chances ; but these 
three are divergent essentially (though against a common 
enemy they may work for a while together, as they did 
during this war), and they appeal to different weaknesses 
of human nature ; they are alike, however, in being equally 
illiberal, equally " rucksichtlos " and " bose," equally 
regardless of the harm they may do, and accounting it 
all an added glory, like baiting the devil. By giving a 
free rein to such propagandas, and by disgusting the people 
with too much optimism, toleration, and neutrality, 
liberalism has introduced a new reign of unqualified ill- 
will. Hatred and wilfulness are everywhere ; nations 
and classes are called to life on purpose to embody them ; 
they are summoned by their leaders to shake off the 
lethargy of contentment and to become conscious of their 
existence and of their terrible wrongs. These propagandas 
have taken shape in the blue sky of liberalism, like so 
many summer clouds ; they seem airships sailing under a 
flag of truce ; but they are engines of war, and on the 
first occasion they will hoist their true colours, and break 
the peace which allowed them to cruise over us so leisurely. 
Each will try to establish its universal ascendancy by force, 


in contempt of personal freedom, or the voice of majorities. 
It will rely, against the apathy and vagueness of the million, 
on concentrated zeal in its adepts. Minorities everywhere 
have their way ; and majorities, grown familiar with pro 
jects that at first shocked them, decide one fine morning 
that there may be no harm in them after all, and follow 
like sheep. Every trade, sect, private company, and 
aspiring nation, finding some one to lead it, asserts itself 
" ruthlessly " against every other. Incipient formations 
in the body politic, cutting across and subverting its old 
constitution, eat one another up, like different species of 
animals ; and the combat can never cease except some 
day, perhaps, for lack of combatants. Liberalism has 
merely cleared a field in which every soul and every 
corporate interest may fight with every other for domina 
tion. Whoever is victorious in this struggle will make 
an end of liberalism ; and the new order, which will deem 
itself saved, will have to defend itself in the following age 
against a new crop of rebels. 

For myself, even if I could live to see it, I should not 
be afraid of the future domination, whatever it may be. 
One has to live in some age, under some fashion ; I have 
found, in different times and places, the liberal, the Catholic, 

iand the German air quite possible to breathe ; nor, I am 
sure, would communism be without its advantages to a 
j free mind, and its splendid emotions. Fanatics, as Tacitus 
said of the Jews or Christians, are consumed with hatred 
of the human race, which offends them ; yet they are 
themselves human ; and nature in them takes its revenge, 
and something reasonable and sweet bubbles up out of 
the very fountain of their madness. Once established in 
the world the new dispensation forms a ruling caste, a 
conventional morality, a standard of honour ; safety and 
happiness soften the heart of the tyrant. Aristocracy 
knows how to kiss the ruddy cheeks of its tenants children ; 
and before mounting its thoroughbred horse at the park 
gates, it pats him with a gloved hand, and gives him a 
lump of sugar ; nor does it forget to ask the groom, with a 
kindly interest, when he is setting out for the war. Poor 
flunkey ! The demagogues will tell him he is a fool, to 
let himself be dragooned into a regiment, and marched off 


to endure untold privations, death, or ghastly wounds, 
all for some fantastic reason which is nothing to him. 
It is a hard fate ; but can this world promise anybody 
anything better ? For the moment he will have a smart 
uniform ; beers and lasses will be obtainable ; many- 
comrades will march by his side ; and he may return, if 
he is lucky, to work again in his master s stables, lounge 
at the public-house, and bounce his children on his knee 
amongst the hollyhocks before his cottage. Would the 
demagogues give him better prospects, or prove better 
masters ? Would he be happier with no masters at all ? 
Consider the demagogues themselves, and their history. 
They found themselves in the extreme of misery ; but 
even this is a sort of distinction, and marks off a new 
species, seizing new weapons in the struggle for existence. 
The scum of the earth gathers itself together, becomes a 
criminal or a revolutionary society, finds some visionary 
or some cosmopolitan agitator to lead it, establishes its 
own code of ethics, imposes the desperate discipline of 
outlaws upon its members, and prepares to rend the free 
society that allowed it to exist. It is astonishing with 
what docility masses of Englishmen, supposed to be jealous 
of their personal liberty, will obey such a revolutionary 
junta, that taxes and commands them, and decrees when 
they shall starve and when they shall fight. I suspect 
that the working-people of the towns no longer have 
what was called the British character. Their forced 
unanimity in action and passion is like that of the ages 
of faith ; its inspiration, like that of early Christianity, 
comes from a few apostles, perhaps foreign Jews, men 
who in the beginning had visions of some millennium ; 
and the cohesion of the faithful is maintained afterwards 
by preaching, by custom, by persecution, and by murder. 
Yet it is intelligible that the most earnest liberals, who 
in so far as they were advocates of liberty fostered these 
conspiracies, in so far as they are philanthropists should 
applaud them, and feel the need of this new tyranny. 
They save liberal principles by saying that they applaud 
it only provisionally as a necessary means of freeing the 
people. But of freeing the people from what ? From the 
consequences of freedom. 



ENGLAND has been curiously served by her philosophers. 
Personally and in their first intention they have usually 
been sturdy Britons ; but their scope has seldom been 
equal to their sagacity in particular matters, they have 
not divined the ultimate drift of their ideas, and they 
have often ended by adopting, a little blankly and doggedly, 
some foreign or fantastic system, apparently most in 
expressive of John Bull. Nevertheless the exotic tendency 
in so many British philosophers, as in so many disaffected 
British poets, is itself a mark of the British character. 
The crust of convention has solidified too soon, and the 
suppressed fires issue in little erratic streams that seem of 
an alien substance. In speculation as in other things the 
Englishman trusts his inner man ; his impulse is to 
soliloquize even in science. At the same time his inner 
man dislikes to be too articulate ; he is soon at a stand 
in direct self - expression ; and as a poet may take to 
describing nature or Italian passions, so a philosopher 
may pick up some alien doctrine that comes to hand, and 
that seems friendly to his mind ; not understanding it 
very well, perhaps, in its native quality, but making it a 
living companion in his own lucubrations, and a symbol 
for what remains hidden but revered in his breast. In 
this way the Bible or Plato may serve him to found sects 
upon exclusively expressing his own feelings ; or remaining 
a plain Englishman to all practical purposes, he may 
become, for his greater private satisfaction, a revolutionary 
atheist, a spiritualist, a Catholic, or a Buddhist. In such 
strange allegiances something may be due to wayward 
learning, or to genuine plasticity of mind and power to 
feel as very different souls have felt in other climes ; but 
a part is unmistakable helplessness and dire need, and a 
part, perhaps, affectation. 

When his own resources fail, however, the most obvious 
easement and support for the English inner man are the 
classical and Anglican traditions he has been bred in, 
when these are not too nicely defined nor too slavishly 


followed. Most characteristic is John Bull the theologian, 
instinct with heresy and practising compromise ; but the 
rationalistic John Bull is very like him in his alternative 
way of securing the same supreme object of thinking what 
he likes to think. In both cases he embraces his opinions 
much more because they are wholesome and important 
than because they are certain or clear. Opinions, he feels, 
should be summary and safe ; they should express the 
lessons of experience. 

As he conceives it at first, experience does not merely 
exist, it teaches. In a sporadic fashion it yields sound 
satisfactions, clear warnings, plain facts. It admonishes 
him to trust his senses, the reports of reputable travellers 
and naturalists, Christianity, and the British constitution, 
all when duly revised ; and on the other hand to shun 
popery, scholastic quibbles, absolutism, and revolution. 
But evidently experience could never teach him these 
things if his inner man did not contribute its decided 
cravings and aversions. His inner man detests dictation 
and loves opportunity ; in ideas it prefers timeliness to 
finality. Therefore, when his philosophers come upon 
the scene they cannot appeal to him by coercive proofs, 
nor by the impressive architecture of their systems, nor 
by disentangling and setting clearly before him any 
ultimate ideal. To win his ear they must rather drive 
his current convictions home, nearer to their source in 
himself ; they must invite him to concentrate his empiri 
cism. For instance, he trusts his senses ; and the 
philosophers can deeply interest him if they ask him 
what, precisely, his senses vouch for. Is it external 
things ? But can he actually see anything except colours, 
or touch anything except resistances ? Can he feel any 
thing except his own sensations ? By appealing to his 
honesty, the sophists catch him in a trap, and he changes 
his mind in trying to utter it. It will appear presently, 
as he pursues his inquiry, that he has no knowledge of 
those external things and events which he had been so 
sure of ; they were mere empty notions, and his genuine 
experience contained nothing but the pulses of his inner 
life, changes in his ideas and vital temperature, which an 
accurate autobiography might record. And the more 


scrupulously he considers these pulses of his inner life the 
less and less will he find in them. He and his whole 
experience will soon be reduced to a series of sensations 
in single file, with nothing behind them. In reality even 
this is too much. Although the inertia of psychological 
conventions and the romantic habit of self-consciousness 
have kept him from perceiving it, even to this day, yet the 
fact that a sensation is occurring is not revealed by that 
sensation itself ; no date, place, or relation to a mind is 
included in its deliverance, and no relation to anything 
before or beyond ; so that the bare datum of sensation 
is an aesthetic being, not a mental one ; an ideal term, not 
an event ; a universal essence, not a particular fact ; and 
immersion in sense or in absolute immediate experience, 
when animal faith and intelligence are taken away from 
it, would remove from us every vestige of the notion that 
anything exists or that anything happens. But without 
pushing analysis so far, the empirical philosophers left 
John Bull, when he listened to them, singularly bereft 
of those comfortable impedimenta with which he had 
expected to travel through life without a body, without 
an environment, without a ground, or any natural perfec 
tion or destiny, for his moral being. He had loved 
exploration, and had looked forward with the flush of 
confidence to the knowledge and power which his dis 
coveries would bring him ; but now he saw that all dis 
coveries were incalculable, arbitrary, and provisional, since 
they were not truly discoveries, but only developments. 

Here was an odd transformation. The self-educated 
merchants and indignant reformers who, thumping their 
desks dogmatically, had appealed so roundly to the 
evidence of their senses, little expected that their philosophy 
was directed to turning them in the end into inarticulate 
sensualists, rapt in omphalic contemplation of their states 
of mind. Some academic idealists, disliking this result, 
which cast a slur on the pre-eminence of spirituality and 
learning, and yet not being willing or able to give up the 
method by which that result had been reached, sought to 
push the inquiry further, and to come out of the wood 
on quite the other side. My sensations, they said, since I 
can now survey the whole series they form, must all exist 


together in my present apprehension ; and as I cannot 
know them except in this single and present glance, they 
never can have existed out of it ; so that I am not really 
a series of sensations, but only the idea that I am a series 
of sensations ; in other words, I have become a single 
sensation instead of many. To make this clearer the same 
philosophers added that this single sensation or thought, 
which is what I really am, is also God. Experience now 
turned out not to be anything that goes on or happens 
or is endured ; it is the theme of an immutable divine 
contemplation and divine satisfaction. I am God in so 
far as I think and approve ; but the chequered experience 
which I supposed myself to be undergoing is merely imputed 
to myself by God and me in our thinking. 

This second conclusion, like the first, has its value for 
some temperaments. It brings suddenly before us, as if 
it were an accomplished fact, the innate ideal of the 
intellect : to see the changing aspects of all things from 
above, in their true eternal relations. But this ideal, too, 
is utterly disparate from that practical experience and 
prevision which John Bull prizes so highly and thinks he 
possesses ; indeed, the sublimity of this view lies precisely 
in its tendency to freeze and submerge all experience, 
transmuting hard facts and anxious events into painted 
ships upon a painted ocean, and for our stumbling and 
unfinished progress substituting a bound volume of travels. 

What false step could bring British philosophy, in its 
gropings, to conclusions so un-English that even those 
who feel compelled to propose them do so shamefacedly, 
with many euphemisms and convenient confusions, or 
even fail altogether to understand the tremendous paradoxes 
they are repeating ? It was a false step at which Hobbes 
halted, which Locke took unsuspectingly, and which sent 
Berkeley and Hume head over heels : the assumption that 
facts are known immediately. In reality none of the 
facts which the sturdy Briton feels that he knows and 
they are the true facts of nature and of moral life would 
be known to him if he were without tentative intelligence 
and instinctive animal faith ; indeed, without these the 
senses would have no virtue and would inform us of 
nothing ; and cows would not see grass nor horses hay, 



but only green or yellow patches, like rapt empirical 
philosophers. When Hobbes said that no discourse what 
soever can end in absolute knowledge of fact, he uttered 
a great truth, but he implied a great error, since he implied 
that sense meaning the senseless sensations of idiots 
could give such knowledge ; whereas the absolute datum 
in sense is just as ideal, and just as little a fact, as the 
deliverance of the most theoretical discourse ; and absolute 
knowledge if we call such apprehension knowledge can 
seize only some aesthetic or logical term, without any 
given date, place, or connection in experience. Empiricism 
in the end must substitute these ideal essences, on the 
ground that they are the only data, for the facts of nature 
facts which animal reactions and the beliefs expressing 
them are requisite to discover, and which science defines 
by the cumulative use of reason. In making this substitu 
tion empiricism passes against its will into sensualism or 
idealism. Then John Bull and his philosophers part 
company : he sticks manfully to his confused conventional 
opinions, which after all give him a very tolerable know 
ledge of the facts ; while they go digging for an absolute 
knowledge of fact, which is impossible, in an intuitive 
cloudland where there are only aesthetic essences. Hence 
the bankruptcy of their enterprise. Immediate data are 
the counters of experience, but they are the money of 


To many an Englishman the human head seems too 
luxuriant. With its quantities of superfluous words and 
ideas, it grows periodically hot and messy, and needs a 
thorough cropping and scrubbing. To this end, William 
of Occam long ago invented his razor : entia non multi- 
plicanda praeter necessitate ; a maxim calculated to 
shave the British inner man clean, and make a roundhead 
of him, not to say a blockhead. That everything is 
" nothing but " something else, probably inferior to it, 
became in time a sort of refrain in his politics and 


philosophy. He saw that reflection was constantly em 
broidering on the facts ; but did he suppose that the 
pattern of things was really simpler than that of ideas, 
or did he feel that, however elaborate things might be, 
thought at least might be simple ? At any rate, he aimed 
instinctively at economy of terms, retrenchment in belief, 
reduction of theory to the irreducible minimum. If 
theory was not useful, what was the use of it ? And 
certainly all that can be said for some theories is that 
perhaps they are useful ; and when ideas are merely 
useful, being worthless in themselves and absorbing human 
caloric, the less we require of them the better. Thought 
might then be merely a means to a life without thought, 
and belief a door to a heaven where no beliefs were 
expected ; all speech might be like the curt words one 
says to the waiter, in the hope of presently dining in 
silence ; and all looking might be looking out, as in crossing 
a crowded street, ending in the blessed peace of not having 
to look any more. 

Occam s razor has gradually shorn British and German 
philosophy of the notions of substance and cause, matter 
and God, truth and the soul. Sometimes these terms 
were declared to stand for nothing whatever, because 
(as in the case of matter and substance) if I reduced myself 
to a state of artificial stupidity I might for a moment 
stop short of the conception of them. More often (as in 
the case of the soul) the term was declared to stand for 
something real, which, however, was " nothing but " 
something else. Of course, all words and thoughts stand 
for something else ; and the question is only whether we 
can find another word or thought that will express the 
reality better. Thus, if I said that the soul was " nothing 
but " a series of sensations, I should soon have to add 
that this series, to make up a soul, must arise in the same 
animal body, and must be capable of being eventually 
surveyed and recalled together ; while I should have to 
assign to some other obscure agency those unconscious 
vital functions which were formerly attributed to the soul 
in forming and governing the body, and breeding the 
passions ; functions without which my series of sensations 
would hardly be what it is. I am not confident that all 


this laboured psychology makes things much clearer in 
the end, or does not multiply entities without necessity ; 
since where I had simply spoken of the soul, I should now 
have to speak of sensations, series, possibility, synthesis, 
personal identity, the transcendental unity of apperception, 
and the unconscious mind. Something is doubtless gained 
by coining these modern and questionable expressions, 
since they indicate true complexities in the facts, while a 
poetic term like " soul " covers them only by pointing 
the finger of childish wonder at them, without analysis. 
Nature is far more complicated than any language or 
philosophy, and the more these refine, the closer they 
can fit. The anxiety of the honest Occam to stick to the 
facts, and pare his thoughts to the quick, had this justifica 
tion in it, that sometimes our images and distinctions are 
misplaced. Grammar, usurping the role of physics, created 
metaphysics, the trouble with which is not at all that it 
multiplies entities, since no metaphysician can invent 
anything that did not lie from all eternity in the realm 
of essence, like the plot of unwritten novels, waiting for 
some one with wit enough to think of it. The trouble is 
rather that the metaphysician probably gives his favourite 
essences the wrong status. These beings may well be 
absent from the time and place to which he hastily assigns 
them ; they may even be incongruous altogether with 
what happens to exist anywhere. What happens to exist 
is perhaps what he thinks he is describing, or what, like 
Occam, he would like to describe if he could ; but he is 
probably not able. Yet that doesn t matter so much as 
he imagines. What happens to exist can take very good 
care of itself, and is quite indifferent to what people 
think of it ; and as for us, if we possess such cursory 
knowledge of the nearer parts of existence as is sufficient 
for our safety, there is no reason why we should attend to 
it too minutely : there s metal more attractive in discourse 
and in fiction. Mind, as Hobbes said, is fancy, and it is 
the things of fancy that greet us first and reward us best. 
They are far from being more absurd than the facts. In 
themselves, all things are equally unnecessary and equally 
possible ; for their own part, all are equally ready to be 
thought of or even to be born. It is only the routine of 


nature or the sluggish human imagination that refuses to 
admit most of them, as country people refuse to admit that 
foreign languages or manners might do as well as their own. 
If God or nature had used Occam s razor and had 
hesitated to multiply beings without necessity, where should 
we be ? Far from practising economy, nature is pre 
vented from overflowing into every sort of flourish and 
excrescence only by the local paucity of matter, or the 
pre-emption of it by other forms ; because forms, once 
embodied in matter, acquire all its inertia, and grow 
dreadfully stubborn and egotistical. Scrimpy philosophers 
little know whose stewards they are when they complain 
of lavishness in nature, or her lordly way of living ; her 
substance cannot be spent, nor its transformations ex 
hausted. In sheer play, and without being able to help 
it, she will suddenly create organization, or memory, or 
intelligence, or any of those little vortices called passions, 
persons, or nations, which sustain themselves for a moment, 
hypostatizing their frail unity into some moral being 
an interest or a soul. And as we are superfluous in the 
midst of nature, so is the best part of ourselves superfluous 
in us. Poetry, music and pictures, inspired and shaded 
by human emotion, are surely better worth having than 
the inarticulate experience they spring from. Even in 
our apprehension of the material world, the best part is 
the adaptation of it to our position and faculties, since 
this is what introduces boundaries, perspectives, comparison 
and beauty. It is only what exists materially that exists 
without excuse, whereas what the mind creates has some 
vital justification, and may serve to justify the rest. Hence 
the utility of Occam s razor itself, which may help us to 
arrive at a strict and spare account of what the world 
would be without us : a somewhat ironical speculation which 
is the subtlest product and last luxury of the scientific 
mind. Meantime the sensuous and rhetorical trappings of 
human knowledge, from which exact science abstracts, by 
no means disappear ; they remain to enrich the sphere of 
language and fancy, to which judicious people always felt 
that they belonged ; and this intellectual or literary realm is 
no less actual and interesting than any other, being a part 
of the moral radiation and exuberance of a living world. 



EXPERIENCE is a fine word, but what does it mean ? It 
seems to carry with it a mixed sense of mastery and dis 
appointment, suggesting knowledge of a sort with despair 
of better knowledge. Is it such contact with events as 
nobody can avoid, shocks and pressure endured from 
circumstances and from the routine of the world ? But a 
cricket-ball has no experience, although it comes in contact 
with many hands, receives hard knocks, and plays its part 
in the vicissitudes of a protracted game. There are men 
in much the same case ; they travel, they undergo an illness 
or a conversion, and after a little everything in them is 
exactly as it was before ; -n-dOos with them is not /xa#os ; 
their natures are so faithful to the a priori and so elastic 
that they rebound from the evidence of sense and the 
buffets of fortune like a rubber bag full of wind ; they pass 
through life with round eyes open, and a perpetual instinct 
ive babble, and yet in the moral sense of the word they 
have no experience, not being mindful enough to acquire 
any. It would seem that to gather anything we must 
first pause, and that before we can have experience we 
must have minds. 

Yet if we said that experience arose by the operation 
of mind, would not all the operations of mind be equally 
experience ? Has not a maniac probably more and more 
vivid experience than a man of the world ? Doubtless 
when people call their fancies or thoughts experience, 
they mean to imply that they have an external source, 
as " religious experience " is assumed to manifest divine 
intervention, and " psychical experience " to prove the 
self-existence of departed spirits. But these assumptions 
are not empirical ; and evidently the religious or psychical 
experience itself, whatever its cause, is the only empirical 
fact in the case. Those who appeal to the lessons of 
experience are not empiricists, for these are lessons that 
only reason can learn. Experience, as practical people 
understand it, is not every sort of consciousness or memory, 
but only such as is addressed to the facts of nature and 


controlled by the influence of those facts ; material contact 
or derivation is essential to it. Experience is both physical 
and mental, the intellectual fruit of a material intercourse. 
It presupposes animal bodies in contact with things, and 
it presupposes intelligent minds in those bodies, keeping 
count of the shocks received, understanding their causes, 
and expecting their recurrence as it will actually take 
place. To these naturalistic convictions all those ought to 
have clung who valued experience as a witness rather 
than as a sensation ; without animals in a natural environ 
ment experience, as contrasted with fancy or intuition, 
can neither be nor be conceived. It means so much of 
knowledge and readiness as is fetched from contact with 
events by a teachable and intelligent creature ; it is a fund 
of wisdom gathered by living in familiar intercourse with 

But such assumptions are an offence to the expert 
empiricist. The moment he comes upon the scene we 
feel that all we thought experience had taught us is going 
to be disproved. " Do you admit," he begins by asking, 
" that nothing can be more real than experience ? " We 
do admit it. " And can you ever know anything that is 
not experience ? " Perhaps not ; and yet would experience 
be very distinct or very significant if it was experience of 
nothing ? "Of nothing, indeed," he retorts, withering us 
with a scornful glance and the consciousness of his masked 
batteries ; " as if experience itself was nothing ! Experience 
is everything ; and when you have experience of experience 
what more could you ask for, even if you were Doctor 
Faustus in person ? What spurious little non-empirical 
particle is this of of yours ? And what illegitimate ghost 
is this something else that experience should be ofl Can 
you, without confessing to an adulterous intercourse with 
what is not experience, explain these natural but dis 
reputable members of your intellectual family ? " We 
cannot explain them, and we blush. Yet why should 
experience arise at all if there is no occasion for it ? 
" Occasion ! " cries the empiricist ; " another illegal figment, 
the old notion of cause ! Is it not notorious that causation 
is nothing but the habit which some parts of experience 
have of following upon others ? How then should the 


whole of it follow upon any part ? Experience cannot 
spring from anything, it cannot express anything, and it 
cannot know anything, because experience is all there is." 

Here is a considerable retrenchment in the scope of 
our philosophy : no material world, no soul, and (in the 
proper sense of the words) no God and no knowledge. 
Retrenchment, however, is often a sign of wisdom, and 
the retrenching empiricist deserves to be followed, like 
the retrenching hermit, into his psychological wilderness, 
not with a vow never to return to the world, for that 
would be precipitate, but in the hope of sounding, in one 
direction, the depths of spiritual discipline and disillusion. 
And the empirical eremite can taste rare pleasures. All 
things, for him, become the appanage of the inner man ; 
and we need not wonder that the pensive Englishman is 
ready to be empirical in this sense and to become an 
idealist. The lessons of experience, if he was forced to 
take them seriously, might tend to dethrone his inner man 
and lead him to materialism ; but fortunately the lessons 
of experience, for an empiricist, can be nothing but little 
epicycles within it, or cross-references to its literal text ; 
they cannot spoil its intimate and romantic nature, which 
is to be no end of pulsations and no end of pictures. How 
dead would anything external or permanent be, even if 
we thought we could find it ! How abstract would be 
anything common to all times and places, how terrible a 
mocking truth that should overarch them for ever 1 

It is true that the romantic empiricist is not very 
radical ; he commonly stops short of any doubts on the 
validity of memory, with all the yarns it spins ; his past 
adventures and his growth are too fascinating for him to 
doubt their reality. Sometimes he even trusts a super 
stitious prophecy, under the name of logical evolution, 
foretelling what his destiny is somehow compelled to be. 
At other times he prefers to leave the future ambiguous, 
so that the next step may lead him anywhere, perhaps to 
heaven, provided it is understood that his career, even 
there, is always to remain an unfinished voyage in an 
uncharted sea. In strictness, however, he has no right to 
this fond interest in himself. If he became a perfect 
empiricist he would trust experience only if it taught him 


absolutely nothing, even about his own past. This is hard 
for the flesh, and it may not be fair to ask an empiricist 
to be heroic in the interests of logic ; but if he could screw 
his courage up for the plunge, his spirit might find itself 
perfectly at home in the new situation. What he might 
have been or might have thought, he would dismiss as a 
dead issue ; he would watch only his present life as it 
flowed, and he would love exclusively what he was becom 
ing. There is a sense of safety in being and not thinking 
which probably all the animals know, and there is a mystical 
happiness in accepting existence without understanding 
it. ; but the sense of safety does not render the animals really 
safe, and the price they pay for living in the moment is 
that they carry nothing over from one moment to another 
except bare existence itself. The disadvantage of radical 
empiricism is that it shuts out experience. 


IT was formerly a matter of some surprise to me that 
there should be so many Hegelians in England, and in 
such places of influence. I could imagine how the system 
might have taken root in circles where the classic tradition 
was absent or enfeebled in America, in Scotland, among 
the Dissenters or Jews in England itself ; but how could 
Oxford and Cambridge fail to see in that system the trail 
of the serpent ? How could they mistake it for a Christian 
or for a spiritual philosophy ? It is indeed, in form, an 
encyclopaedic system, and in that sense suitable to 
universities ; and it deifies knowledge such as an encyclo 
paedia can give, turning it into the sum total of reality, 
so that it flatters the self-sufficiency of pedants, or that 
of any reflective mind. But in Oxford and Cambridge 
knowledge is not everything ; they are more and less 
than universities ; the learning they cultivate is selective 
and pursued in the service of aristocratic liberty. I 
should not expect them to care much for a philosophy 
that was not poetic and devout. I sometimes fancy 


how the genuine Oxonians must have smiled to hear T. H. 
Green, in the early days of transcendentalism, talking about 
his spiritual principle in nature. By spiritual he meant 
mind-made ; he thought the world, remaining just as it 
is, could suddenly be proved to be spiritual if you could 
show that a mental synthesis was requisite to hold it 
together. But what possible advantage is it to the world 
to be held together by a mental synthesis, rather than by 
space or time or the truth of its constitution ? A synthesis 
of worthless facts does not render them severally better, 
nor itself a good. A spirit whose essential function was 
to create relations would be merely a generative principle, 
as the spider is to its web ; it would be no better than its 
work, unless perhaps it was spiritual enough to grow 

r weary of that vain labour. Spiritual, for those who retain 
the language of Christendom, signifies free from the world 

! and from the flesh, and addressed to the eternal and to the 

Everything, however, has its explanation, and in the 
matter of English Hegelism I think I begin to see it. In 
the first place, I was rashly identifying England with a 
figment of my dreams, with which I was in love : I saw 
in my mind s eye a manly and single-minded England, 
free, candid, poetical, akin to feudal France, beauty- 
loving like old Italy, the Benjamin of the Roman family 
of nations, adding to the dignity and disinterestedness of 
the Castilian character only a certain blond charm, a 
certain infusion of northern purity, and of sympathy 
with the wild and rural voices of nature. In this England, 
in which there was something Spartan and archaically 
Greek, the men were like Hippolytus and the women 
like Antigone. Naturally it was unintelligible to me that 
the system of Hegel should take root in such a nation. 
Persons with a ripe moral tradition are not attracted by 
sophistry. No argument, however specious, will convince 
them that the experience of man on earth makes up the 
whole universe, or the chief part of it ; much less will 
they allow fortune, under the pompous name of evolution, 
to dictate to them their moral allegiance. The chief force 
of the Hegelian system for those who are not metaphysicians 
lies in the criterion of progress which it imposes. This 


criterion is not beauty in art, nor truth in philosophy, 
nor justice in society, nor happiness in the individual 
life : the criterion is simply the direction which the actual 
movement happens to be taking. Hegel endeavours to 
show in what way forms are inevitably passing into one 
another. Thus his ethics begs defence of history, and his 
history calls for aid on metaphysics. And what meta 
physics ? A logic of moral fashions. Now it seemed to 
me axiomatic that eager co-operation with whatever is 
going on, or is bound to win, would be repulsive to a man 
of honour. Nor could I conceive a true Englishman 
taking kindly even to the grand side of this system, which 
to me personally is rather attractive, I mean to its satirical 
elevation. The English mind is tender and temperate: 
it deprecates scorn. But Hegel, in his scathing moods, is 
comparable to Heraclitus ; he mocks every opinion with 
an opinion which refutes it, and every life with another 
life which kills it. He has the wisdom of the serpent ; 
but unlike Heraclitus, whose fabled tears were warm, he 
has the heart of the serpent too. He despises finitude 
because it is weak, as if an infinity of pervasive weakness 
were strong, or a perpetual flux a victory for anything. 
Laughing, I can t help thinking, up his sleeve, he suggests 
that this flux itself is a victory for the spirit, meaning 
by spirit the law by which he supposes that this flux is 
controlled. But this is sheer mockery : the only moral 
victory is that achieved, under favourable conditions, 
by some living spirit, glad to be expressed or to have been 
expressed in some perfect form. The finite only is good : 
the infinite tides are worth exactly what they cast up. 
There is a bitter idolatry of fate in this system which 
might seem splendid to a barbarian ; but how, I asked 
myself, can it be anything but horrible to a cultivated 
conscience, or to a pupil of the Greeks ? 

In the real England the character I dreamt of exists, 
but very much mixed, and overbalanced by its contrary. 
Many have the minds of true gentlemen, poetically 
detached from fortune, and seeing in temporal things only 
their eternal beauties. Yet if this type of English character 
had been general, England could never have become 
Puritan, nor bred so many prosperous merchants and 


manufacturers, nor sent such shoals of emigrants to the 
colonies ; it would hardly have revelled as it does in political 
debates and elections, and in societies for the prevention 
and promotion of everything. In the real England there 
is a strong if not dominant admixture of worldliness. 
How ponderous these Lord Mayors, these pillars of chapels, 
these bishops, these politicians, these solemn snobs ! 
How tight -shut, how moralistic, how overbearing these 
intellectuals with a mission ! All these important people 
are eaten up with zeal, and given over to rearranging the 
world, and yet without the least idea of what they would 
change it into in the end, or to what purpose. Being so 
much in earnest, they are convinced that they must be 
living on the highest principles : what, then, is more 
intelligible than that they should welcome a philosophy 
which assures them that such is the case ? They are well 
pleased to hear, on the highest metaphysical authority, 
that the first duty of a rich man is to grow richer, and of 
a settled man to redouble in loyalty to his wife, his 
community, his party, and his business. The Protestant 
reformers told them so formerly in biblical language ; the 
Protestant philosophers tell them so now in the language 
of Hegel. 

Besides, on its technical side, the Hegelian system has 
a great strength, and was most apposite in the predicament 
in which, fifty years ago, philosophy found itself in 
England. It supplied three illusions which idealism sadly 
needed if it was to become orthodox and popular : the 
illusions of profundity, of comprehensiveness, and of 
finality. It was a philosophy of progress another claim 
to popularity in the nineteenth century not only progress 
in the world at large, but especially in philosophy itself ; 
and a philosophy of progress cannot ask us to go back, 
to cry peccavi, and reconsider the false assumptions on 
which we may have been reasoning for two hundred or 
for two thousand years. It must accept these assumptions 
and go on building upon them, always a higher and a 
higher structure. Now the principal assumption of British 
philosophy, on which German philosophy itself rests, was 
that nothing can be experienced except experience itself, 
and nothing known except knowledge. But the Germans 


analysed far more accurately than the British had formerly 
done what the notions of experience and knowledge contain. 
They demonstrated the unity of glance that is essential 
to it, and thus refuted (without of course removing) the 
successive and episodic character of experience, as the 
honest but unwary empiricists had conceived it. Hume 
and Mill had remained naturalists in regard to the distribu 
tion of those volatile ideas to which they pretended to 
reduce the world. John Stuart Mill had a deeper and a 
sweeter mind than his critics ; there was something in 
him akin to Wordsworth or to Matthew Arnold ; but his 
inherited principles were treacherous, and opened the door 
to just such a concentration of egotism as the Hegelians 
brought about. Moreover, Hume and Mill had seemed 
depressing ; they perplexed without filling the mind ; 
they made everything that is most familiar and interesting 
seem strangely hypothetical ; whereas in Hegel the pageant 
of nature and history appeared to be re-formed and to march 
round and round the stage of the ego under the strongest 
light to the loudest music. There was a sort of deafening 
optimism about it ; and not only was a convenient school- 
book universe offered you, warranted complete, but all 
previous philosophies were succinctly described, refuted, 
and linked together, in a manner most convenient for 
tutorial purposes. Of course, the true character and eternal 
plausibility of each great system were falsified in such a 
survey ; each was attached artificially to what happened 
to precede and to follow it in time, or in the knowledge of 
the historian ; as if history were a single chain of events, 
and its march dialectical a fiction which Hegel did 
not blush to maintain. An inner instability was thus 
attributed to each view which came only from the slippery 
mind of the critic touring amongst them, without the least 
intention of finding anywhere a home in which to rest. 
Hegel was not looking for the truth why dream of truth 
when you possess learning ? he was writing an apology 
for opinion. He enjoyed understanding and imagining 
things plausibly, and had a great intelligence to pour 
into his constructions ; but this very heat of thought fused 
everything into the mould of his method, and he gave out 
that he had understood every system much better than 


those who believed in it, and had been carried by its inner 
contradictions (which its adepts never saw) to the next 
convenient position in the development of human fancy, 
and of his own lectures. 

Abstraction, such as withdrawal of the mind from 
worldly affairs, is condemned by this philosophy : you 
must glut the brain and heart with everything that exists. 
An even worse abstraction, for a philosopher, is to detach 
the object from the subject, and believe it to exist inde 
pendently. But what is abstraction ? Can attention ever 
render things more discrete than they are in their own 
nature ? Suppose I abstract a coin from another man s 
pocket : it is easily proved by Hegel s logic that such an 
abstraction is a mere appearance. Coins cannot exist 
as coins except as pocketed and owned ; at the same 
time they imply an essential tendency to pass into the 
pockets of other men : for a coin that could not issue 
from the pocket would be a coin in name only, and not in 
function. When it actually passes from one man s pocket 
into another s, this circumstance, far from justifying us 
in thinking the coin a separable thing, shows that all 
men s pockets (when not empty and therefore, in function, 
not pockets at all) are intrinsically related and, in a higher 
sense, one and the same purse. Therefore, we may con 
clude, it was not the sly transference of the coin from 
my neighbour s pocket into mine that was the wrongful 
abstraction, but only the false supposition that if the coin 
was his it was not, by right of eminent domain, mine 
also. A man, in so far as he is the possessor of coins, is 
simply a pocket, and all pockets, in so far as there is 
transferable coin in them, are one pocket together. In 
this way we avoid false abstraction by proving that every 
thing is abstract. 

Nor is this all ; for strange as it may seem, Hegel appeals 
also to one type of religious people, and seems to them to 
lift religious faith triumphantly above all possible assaults 
of fact or of science. Are not all facts mere ideas ? And 
must not all ideas be bred in the mind according to 
its own free principles of life and effort ? Is not all this 
semblance of externality in things a blessed foil to spiritual 
activity ? Does not this universal mutation pay loud 


homage to eternal law ? Things go by threes : that is 
the reason why they exist and why they move, and the 
sovereign good to be attained by their motion. If every 
truth turns out to be a lie, every lie is a part of some higher 
truth ; if everything becomes unreal, because it passes 
into something else, this other thing inherits its reality ; 
and if we look at things as a whole instead of seriatim, and 
spread out our moving film into a panorama, we perceive 
that everything has implied everything else from the 
beginning, and formed a part of it ; so that only from the 
point of view of ignorance is anything earlier, or better, 
or truer than anything else. Here, in the All, we have 
rest from our labours. 

In this way even the slaves of the world at last learn 
to overcome the world ; but it is too late. This All, even 
if it were open to human survey, would have no value : it 
defeats each of its constituent lives and is itself responsive 
to no living desire. The indistinction which the vague 
idea of it produces in the mind may be soothing to the 
weary ; but better than mystical relief at the end would 
have been moral freedom in the beginning. That a different 
life will supersede mine is nothing against my happiness ; 
that time is swallowing me up is nothing against my 
appropriate eternity. How vain the crabbed hand of the 
miser stringing his pearls and never looking at them, 
counting the drops that trickle into his cup and never 
emptying it, never feeling the intoxication of living now, 
of telling the truth frankly, and of being happy here ! If 
the devil laughs at me because I am mortal, I laugh at 
him for imagining that death can trouble me, or any other 
free spirit, so long as I live, or after I am dead. 


THIS war will kill the belief in progress, and it w r as high 
time. Progress is often a fact : granted a definite end to 
be achieved, we may sometimes observe a continuous 
approach towards achieving it, as for instance towards 


cutting off a leg neatly when it has been smashed ; and 
such progress is to be desired in all human arts. But belief 
in progress, like belief in fate or in the number three, is 
a sheer superstition, a mad notion that because some idea 
here the idea of continuous change for the better has 
been realized somewhere, that idea was a power which 
realized itself there fatally, and which must be secretly 
realizing itself everywhere else, even where the facts con 
tradict it. Nor is belief in progress identical with belief 
in Providence, or even compatible with it. Providence 
would not have begun wrong in order to correct itself ; 
and in works which are essentially progressive, like a story, 
the beginning is not worse than the end, if the artist is 

What true progress is, and how it is usually qualified 
by all sorts of backsliding and by incompatible movements 
in contrary directions, is well illustrated by the history of 
philosophy. There has been progress in it ; if we start 
with the first birth of intelligence and assume that the end 
pursued is to understand the world, the progress has been 
immense. We do not understand the world yet ; but we 
have formed many hypotheses about it corroborated by 
experience, we are in possession of many arts which involve 
true knowledge, and we have collated and criticized 
especially during the last century a great number of 
speculations which, though unverified or unverifiable, reveal 
the problems and the possibilities in the case ; so that I 
think a philosopher in our day has no excuse for being so 
utterly deceived in various important matters as the best 
philosophers formerly were through no fault of theirs, 
because they were misled by a local tradition, and in 
evitably cut off from the traditions of other ages and 
races. Nevertheless the progress of philosophy has not 
been of such a sort that the latest philosophers are the 
best : it is quite the other way. Philosophy in this respect 
is like poetry. There is progress in that new poets arise 
with new gifts, and the fund of transmitted poetry is en 
riched ; but Homer, the first poet amongst the Greeks, was 
also the best, and so Dante in Italy, and Shakespeare in 
England. When a civilization and a language take shape 
they have a wonderful vitality, and their first-fruits are 


some love-child, some incomparable creature in whom the 
whole genius of the young race bursts forth uncontaminated 
and untrammelled. What follows is more valuable in this 
respect or in that ; it renders fitly the partial feelings and 
varying fashions of a long decadence ; but nothing, so long 
as that language and that tradition last, can ever equal 
their first exuberance. Philosophy is not so tightly bound 
as poetry is to language and to local inspiration, but it 
has largely shared the same vicissitudes ; and in each 
school of philosophy only the inventors and founders are 
of any consequence ; the rest are hacks. Moreover, if we 
take each school as a whole, and compare it with the 
others, I think we may repeat the same observation : the 
first are the best. Those following have made very real 
improvements ; they have discovered truths and methods 
before unknown ; but instead of adding these (as they 
might have done) to the essential wisdom of their pre 
decessors, they have proceeded like poets, each a new-born 
child in a magic world, abandoned to his fancy and his 
personal experience. Bent on some specific reform or 
wrapped up in some favourite notion, they have denied 
the obvious because other people had pointed it out ; and 
the later we come down in the history of philosophy the 
less important philosophy becomes, and the less true in 
fundamental matters. 

Suppose I arrange the works of the essential philosophers 
leaving out secondary and transitional systems in a 
bookcase of four shelves ; on the top shelf (out of reach, 
since I can t read the language) I will place the Indians ; 
on the next the Greek naturalists ; and to remedy the 
unfortunate paucity of their remains, I will add here those 
free inquirers of the renaissance, leading to Spinoza, who 
after two thousand years picked up the thread of scientific 
speculation ; and besides, all modern science : so that this 
shelf will run over into a whole library of what is not 
ordinarily called philosophy. On the third shelf I will put 
Platonism, including Aristotle, the Fathers, the Scholastics, 
and all honestly Christian theology ; and on the last, 
modern or subjective philosophy in its entirety. I will 
leave lying on the table, as of doubtful destination, the 
works of my contemporaries. There is much life in some 


of them. I like their water-colour sketches of self -con 
sciousness, their rebellious egotisms, their fervid reforms of 
phraseology, their peep-holes through which some very 
small part of things may be seen very clearly : they have 
lively wits, but they seem to me like children playing 
blind-man s-buff ; they are keenly excited at not knowing 
where they are. They are really here, in the common 
natural world, where there is nothing in particular to 
threaten or to allure them ; and they have only to remove 
their philosophical bandages in order to perceive it. 

What sort of a world this is I will not say in itself, but 
in respect to us can be perceived almost at once by any 
candid spirit, and the Indians readily perceived it. They 
saw that substance is infinite, out of scale with our sensuous 
images and (except in the little vortex that makes us up) 
out of sympathy with our endeavours ; and that spirit in 
us nevertheless can hold its own, because salvation lies in 
finding joy in the truth, not in rendering fortune propitious, 
by some miracle, to our animal interests. The spirit is at 
home in the infinite, and morally independent of all the 
accidents of existence : nothing that nature can produce 
outruns its potential scope, its desire to know the truth ; 
and its disinterestedness renders it free, free especially from 
any concern about its own existence. It does not deem it 
the part of piety to deny the fugitive, impotent, and fantastic 
nature of human life. It knows that the thoughts of man 
and his works, however great or delightful when measured 
by the human scale, are but the faintest shimmer on the 
surface of being. On the ruin of humanistic illusions (such 
as make up the religious philosophy of the West) it knows 
how to establish a tender morality and a sublime religion. 

Indian wisdom, intent on the infinity and unity of sub 
stance and on the vanity of human life, neglected two 
inquiries which are nevertheless of the greatest interest to 
the spirit, so long as this vain life endures. The Indians 
did not study the movement and mechanism of nature : 
they had no science. Their poets, in a sort of spectacular 
physics, were content to paint vividly the images of sense, 
conscious of their fugitive charm, and of their monstrous 
and delirious diversity. They also neglected the art of 
rational conduct in this world ; the refinements of their 


moral discipline were all mystical ; they were determined 
by watching the movement of inner experience, and allowing 
the fancy to distinguish its objects and its stages. They 
thought the spirit could liberate itself by thinking, as by 
thinking it seemed to have entangled itself in this mesh of 
dreams. But how could the spirit, if it had been free 
originally, ever have attached its fortunes to any lump of 
clay ? Why should it be the sport of time and change and 
the vicissitudes of affairs ? From the point of view of 
the spirit (which is that of the Indians) this question is 
absolutely insoluble ; a fact which drives them to say that 
this entanglement is not " real," but only an illusion of 
being entangled. Certainly substance is not entangled, but 
persists and moves according to its nature ; and if what 
exists besides substance its aspects and the spirit in us 
that notes them is not " real " because not substantial, 
then the unreal has the privilege, as Democritus pointed out, 
of existing as well as the real, and more obviously. But 
this subterfuge, of denying that appearance exists, because 
its existence is only the seeming of its objects, was inevitable 
in the Indian system, and dramatically right. The spirit, 
left to its own fond logic, remains perfectly ignorant of its 
natural ancestry and cannot imagine why it finds itself 
caught in the vice of existence, and hanging like Prometheus 
on a crag of Caucasus, or like Christ on the cross. The 
myth of reincarnation, whilst it meets certain moral demands, 
leaves the problem essentially untouched. Why should 
spirit have fallen in the first instance, or made any beginning 
in sin and illusion ? 

It would have been better, for the moral and religious 
purposes of these sages, to have observed and respected the 
prose facts, and admitted that each little spirit falls for the 
first time when the body is generated which it is to dwell 
in. It never, in fact, existed before ; it is the spirit of that 
body. Its transcendental prerogatives and its impersonal 
aims are by no means inconsistent with that humble fact : 
they seem inconsistent only to those who are ignorant of 
the life and fertility of nature, which breeds spirit as naturally 
as the lark sings. Aspiration to liberate spirit from absorp 
tion in finite existence is in danger of missing its way if it 
is not enlightened by a true theory of existence and of 


spirit ; for it is utterly impossible to free the spirit materially, 
since it is the voice of matter, but by a proper hygiene it 
can be freed ideally, so that it ceases to be troubled by its 
sluggish instrument, or conscious of it. In these matters 
the Indians were the sport of the wildest fancy. They 
mistook their early poetry for a metaphysical revelation, 
and their philosophy was condemned to turn in the most 
dreary treadmill of commentaries and homilies, without 
one ray of criticism, or any revision of first principles. 
Nevertheless, all their mythology and scholasticism did not 
invalidate (as they did not in the Catholic church afterwards) 
the initial spiritual insight on which their system rested. 
The spirit, viewed from within, is omnipresent and timeless, 
and must be spoken of as falling, or coming down, or entering 
(as Aristotle puts it) through the house-door. Spirit calls 
itself a stranger, because it finds the world strange ; and it 
finds the world strange because, being the spirit of a very 
high-strung and perilously organized animal, it is sensitive 
to many influences not harmonious with its own impulses, 
and has to beg its daily bread. Yet it is rich in resource ; 
and it gives itself out for a traveller and tells marvellous 
lies about its supposed native land, where it was a prince 
and an omnipotent poet. These boasts serve the spirit as 
a declaration of independence, and a claim to immense 
superiority above the world. This independence, however, 
is really only the independence of ignorance, that must 
think and act at random ; and the spirit would add sanity 
to its spirituality if it recognized the natural, precarious, 
and exquisite life of which it is the spirit. 

Sanity, thy name is Greece. The Greek naturalists 
saw (what it needs only sanity to see) that the infinite 
substance of things was instinct with a perpetual motion 
and rhythmic order which were its life, and that the spirit 
of man was a spark from that universal fire. They made 
a magnificent beginning in understanding what the order 
of nature is, and what is the relation of its substance to its 
spirit. They were much nearer in their outlook and their 
wisdom to the Indians than we are apt to imagine. The 
Indians meant to be naturalists too ; all serious philo 
sophers must somehow make a naturalism of their chosen 
elements ; only the Indians were carried away by an 


untutored imagination. The Greeks, for their part, also 
meant to be discerners of substance like the Indians, and 
sharers in the divine life. The object which they believed 
in and studied was precisely the same as that which the 
Indians felt to be breathing deeply around and within 
them : it was the infinite substance and life of things ; 
all things not as they appear but as they truly are. This 
is the object which animals envisage in their perceptions 
from the beginning. The sciences, and all honest specula 
tion, only substitute more refined ideas for the images of 
sense, to be descriptions of the same objects which the 
images of sense reveal. The notion that the object of 
sense is the very image created in sensation, or is an idea 
constructed afterwards by the intellect, is an aberration 
of confused psychologists ; the intellectual construction, 
like the sensuous image, is and is meant to be only a symbol 
for the substance, whatever it^nay be, which confronts 
the living being when he eats or looks or frames a 
scientific hypothesis. Natural things, in their undiscovered 
inner texture, are the only things-in- themselves, and the 
object of every practical perception is the thing-in-itself, 
whatever its nature may happen to be. 

When we enlarge our thoughts, and take in the world, 
as it were, at a glance, the object does not become more 
metaphysical than when we take common things singly. 
The Greeks, too, looked up into the heavens and cried, 
" The All is one." It was just what the Indians had said, 
shutting their eyes and di inking in an infinite draught of 
nothing ; but the outward glance, the docility to fact, 
in the Greeks made a new thought of it, and a true one. 
What was now discovered was the system of nature ; 
the spirit was naturalized in its source ; it was set like a 
young plant in its appropriate flowei-pot, where it might 
wax and bloom. It did grow there, but not to its primeval 
size. These knowing Greeks were not saints and hermits, 
like the venerable Indians ; they were merchants, sniffing 
travellers, curiosity-hunters, who turned pebbles over and 
culled herbs, breeders of animals, or wandering sooth 
sayers with a monkey on their shoulder ; and in naturalizing 
the spirit they stultified it. Why should knowledge of the 
world make people worldly ? It ought to do the exact 


opposite. The Indians had, in their way, a most profound 
and mature knowledge of the world ; they knew perfectly 
what it could yield to the spirit, and what it was worth. 
But lost in their inner experience they invented for nature 
what structure they chose, fantastically attenuating and 
inflating it as in a dream. Apparently there is not energy 
jenough in the human intellect to look both ways at once, 
;and to study the world scientifically whilst living in it 

The Greeks in their sanity discovered not only the 
natural world but the art of living well in it. Besides 
physics they founded ethics and politics. Bat here again 
progress was prevented by the rejection or perversion of 
the greater thing in the interests of the lesser. Specu- 
latively at least some just conception of the world we live 
in, and of our place and destiny there, is more important 
than the choice of a definite way of life ; for animals and 
man have, quite legitimately, each his own habits and 
pleasures, but they all crawl under the same heaven, and 
if they think of it at all, they should not blaspheme against 
it. The Greek naturalists had conceived nature rightly ; 
and their sentiments and maxims, whilst very properly 
diverse, had all of them a certain noble frankness in the 
presence of the infinite world, of which they begged no 
favours. It was precisely these personal sentiments and 
maxims, and policy in the government of cities, that 
interested the Greeks most ; and the Sophists and Socrates 
affected to care nothing about natural science, unless it 
could make their pot boil. This utilitarianism was 
humorous in Socrates, and in some of the Sophists unprin 
cipled ; but the habit of treating opinions about nature 
as rhetorical themes, or as more or less edifying myths, 
had disastrous consequences for philosophy. It created 
metaphysics. Metaphysics is not merely speculative 
physics, in which natural science is extended imagina 
tively in congruous ways, anticipating what might some 
day be discovered. This is what the naturalists had done, 
and their theories were simply physical or cosmological. 
But after Socrates a theory constructed by reasoning, in 
terms of logic, ethics, and a sort of poetic propriety, was 
put in the place of physics ; the economy of the human 


mind was projected into the universe ; and nature, in the 
works of the metaphysicians, held the mirror up to man. 
Human nature and the human mind, which were thus made 
to rule the world, are in reality a very small incident in 
it ; they are proper to one animal ; they are things of 
yesterday and perhaps not of to-morrow. This is nothing 
against them in their place, as it is nothing against the 
daisy that it is humble, nor against the spray of the sea 
that its flight is violent and brief. The Platonic, British, 
and German schools of philosophy advance our knowledge 
of ourselves ; what a pity that they were not content to 
cultivate their own gardens, where so many moral fruits 
and psychological flowers might be made to grow, but have 
insisted that their domestic vegetables are the signs of the 
zodiac, and that the universe was made to illustrate their 
horticulture ! 

Taken for what they really are, these humanistic 
philosophies express different sides of human nature. 
The best (and earliest) is the Platonic, because the side of 
human nature which it expresses and fosters is the spiritual 
side. Platonic metaphysics projects into the universe the 
moral progress of the soul. It is like a mountain lake, 
in which the aspirations and passions of a civilized mind 
are reflected upside down ; and a certain tremor and 
intensity is added to them in that narrower frame, which 
they would hardly have in the upper air. This system 
renders the life of the soul more unified and more beautiful 
than it would otherwise be. Everything becomes magical, 
and a sort of perpetual miracle of grace ; the forms which 
things wear to the human mind are deputed to be their 
substance ; the uses of life become its protecting gods ; 
the categories of logic and of morals become celestial 
spheres enclosing the earth. A monstrous dream, if you 
take it for a description of nature ; but a suitable allegory 
by which to illustrate the progress of the inner life : because 
those stages, or something like them, are really the stages 
of moral progress for the soul. 

The British and German philosophies belong to an 
analytic phase of reflection, without spiritual discipline, 
and their value is merely psychological. Their subject 
matter is human knowledge ; and the titles of many of the 


chief works of this school confess that this is their only 
theme. Not moral life, much less the natural world, but 
simply the articulation of knowledge occupies them ; and 
yet, by the hocus-pocus of metaphysics, they substitute 
this human experience for the whole universe in which it 
arises. The universe is to be nothing but a flux of percep 
tions, or a will positing an object, or a tendency to feign 
that there is a world. It would ill become me, a pupil of 
this philosophy, to deny its profundity. These are the 
heart-searchings of " a creature moving about in worlds 
not realized." It is a wonderful thing to spin out in 
soliloquy, out of some unfathomed creative instinct, the 
various phases of one s faith and sensibility, making an 
inventory of one s intellectual possessions, with some 
notes on their presumable or reported history. I love the 
lore of the moral antiquary ; I love rummaging in the 
psychological curiosity shop. The charm of modern life 
is ambiguous ; it lies in self -consciousness. Egotism has 
its tender developments ; there is a sort of engaging purity 
in its perplexities and faithful labours. The German soul 
has a great volume, and Hamlet is heroic even in his 
impotence. When in this little glow-worm which we call 
man there is so much going on, what must not all nature 
contain in its immensity ? Yet all these advances in 
analysis and in psychological self-knowledge, far from 
enriching the modern philosopher and giving him fresh 
hints for the interpretation of the great world, have been 
neutralized, under the guise of scepticism, by a total 
intellectual cramp or by a colossal folly. This thoughtful 
dog has dropped the substance he held in his mouth, to 
snatch at the reflection of it which his own mind gave him. 
It is wonderful with what a light heart, with what self- 
satisfaction and even boasts, the youngest children of the 
philosophical family jettison all their heirlooms. Fichte 
and Nietzsche, in their fervid arrogance, could hardly 
outdo the mental impoverishment of Berkeley and Hume 
in their levity : it had really been a sight for the gods to 
see one of these undergraduates driving matter out of the 
universe, whilst the other drove out spirit. 



ENGLISH poetry and fiction have expressed the inner man 
far better than British philosophy has defined him. He is 
a hidden spring, a source of bubbling half-thoughts and 
characteristic actions, and the philosophers have called 
him a series of ideas. Ideas are rather his weak point. 
Idealism, on principle, leaves no room for anything latent ; 
but in a living being, especially in a nice Englishman, 
what is latent is the chief thing. The vital organs are 
under the skin and far more complicated, I suspect, than 
anatomy would lead us to imagine : the case is somewhat 
as if some giant in remote space should examine the surface 
of our earth with a glass, measuring its motion round the 
sun and perhaps round its own axis, but regarding as 
perfectly inexplicable and unmeaning the coursing of 
ships, the march of armies and migrations, the change of 
forests into cornfields, and of cornfields into deserts. So, 
perhaps, far beyond the reach of any microscope, the 
politic congregation of atoms within us is busy in its 
curiously organic and curiously aimless way : sustaining 
on the whole, until disease or death supervenes, the inter 
national peace and commerce of the animal body. How 
much wireless telegraphy, how many alliances, and how 
many diplomatic compromises there must be in our system 
for the human body to live at all ! But psychological 
philosophers, like children, think the whole economy of life 
the simplest thing in the world : experience, they say, just 
comes as it does come ; as the boy, asked where he would 
get the money necessary for all the fine things he said he 
would do when he was a man, replied, full of empirical 
wisdom, " Out of my pocket, like papa ! " Experience 
is the paternal pocket of these philosophers ; they have 
not discovered the financial system, the life of the body, 
which fills that minute and precarious reservoir. 

It is not only a stronger glass that the remote giant 
would need to disclose to him the life of the earth ; he 
would need imagination akin to the human, which such a 
giant would probably not possess. For suppose anatomy 


had done its best or its worst, and had completely mapped 
the machinery of the human automaton ; and suppose 
at the same time the modern dream-readers and diviners 
had unearthed all a man s infant concupiscences and 
secret thoughts : there would still be something essential 
undiscovered. I do not mean that behind the whole 
physical machinery there would be another material 
agency, another force or set of events ; nor that besides 
the totality of mental discourse, remembered or un- 
remembered, there would be more thinking elsewhere : 
the hypothesis is that all that exists in these spheres has 
been surveyed, and assigned to its place in the evolving 
system. What has been so far ignored is something on 
another plane of being altogether, which this automatic 
life and this mental discourse involve, but do not 
contain. It is the principle of both and of their relation ; 
the system of repetitions, correspondences, developments, 
and ideal unities created by this march of human 
life in double column. For instance, men are mortal ; 
they are born ; they are begotten by sexual fertilization ; 
they have a childhood ; their passions and thoughts flow 
in a certain general order ; and there are units in the human 
world called persons, nations, interests, purposes. I do 
not refer to the ideas of these things in the mental discourse 
of this or that man ; but to the groups or cycles of facts 
designated by these ideas. To perceive these groups or 
cycles requires a certain type of intelligence : but intelli 
gence does not invent them without cause ; it finds the 
order which it designates by some word, some metaphor, 
or some image. 

That this order of human life is something natural, and 
not a fiction of discourse, appears in many ways. The 
relation of discourse itself to physical life is one proof of it. 
Mental discourse is the inner luminosity or speech that 
accompanies dramatic crises in the fortunes of the body ; 
it is not self-generated ; it is always the expression of 
another event, then occurring in the body, as is a cry of 
pain ; and it is usually, at the same time, a report of still 
another event that has already occurred beyond the body, 
as is a memory or a perception. Feeling and thought are 
perpetually interrupted and perpetually renewed by some- 


thing not themselves. Their march, logic, and sanity, no 
less than their existence, translate into mental language 
an order proper to material events. A sense of comfort 
is the symptom of a good digestion ; pain expresses a 
lively discord in the nervous system, and pleasure a lively 
harmony. When we can scarcely live, because something 
is stifling us, we hate that thing ; and when we breathe 
more freely because something approaches, we love it. 
Spirit everywhere expresses the life of nature, and echoes 
its endeavours ; but the animal life which prompts these 
feelings is itself not arbitrary : it passes through a cycle 
of changes which are pre-ordained. This predetermined, 
specific direction of animal life is the key to everything 
moral ; without it no external chcumstance could be 
favourable or unfavourable to us ; and spirit within us 
would have no reason to welcome, to deplore, or to notice 
anything. What an anomaly it would seem to a free 
spirit (if there could be such a thing) that it should care 
particularly for what happens in the body of some animal, 
or that it should see one set of facts rather than another, 
and this in so partial and violent a perspective ! But spirit 
does, and must, do this ; and it is an absurd and satanic 
presumption on its part to profess that it could exist, or 
be a spirit at all, if it were not the spirit of some body, 
the voice of some animal heart. To have a station in 
matter, and to have interests in the material world, are 
essential to spirit, because spirit is life become articulate, 
experience focussed in thought and dominated ideally ; but 
experience and life are inconceivable unless an organism 
with specific capacities and needs finds itself in an environ 
ment that stimulates it variously and offers it a conditioned 

Science as yet has no answer to this most important 
of all questions, if we wish to understand human nature : 
namely, How is the body, and how are its senses and 
passions, determined to develop as they do ? We may 
reply : Because God wills it so ; or Because such is the 
character of the human species ; or Because mechanical 
causes necessitate it. These answers do not increase our 
scientific understanding in the least ; nevertheless they 
are not wholly vain : for the first tells us that we must be 


satisfied with ignorance ; the second that we must be 
satisfied with the facts ; and the third, which is the most 
significant, that these facts are analogous in every province 
of nature. But how close are these analogies ? Mechan 
ism is one habit of matter, and life is another habit of 
matter ; the first we can measure mathematically and 
forecast accurately, the second we can only express in 
moral terms, and anticipate vaguely ; but that the 
mechanical habit runs through the vital habit, and con 
ditions it, is made obvious by the dependence of life on 
food, on time, on temperature, by its routine in health 
and by its diseases, by its end, and above all by its origin ; 
for it is a habit of matter continuous with other inorganic 
habits, and (if evolution is true) arising out of them. In 
any case, life comes from a seed in which it lies apparently 
dormant and arrested, and from which it is elicited by 
purely mechanical agencies. On the other hand, the seed 
reacts on those agencies in a manner as yet inexplicable by 
what we know of its structure ; and its development 
closely repeats (though perhaps with some spontaneous 
variation) the phases proper to the species. 

To this mysterious but evident predetermination of 
normal life by the seed the ancients gave the name of 
soul ; but to us the word soul suggests a thinking spirit, 
or even a disembodied one. It is totally incredible that a 
thinking spirit should exist in the seed, and should plan 
and carry out (by what instruments ?) the organization of 
the body ; and if so wise and powerful and independent 
a spirit lay in us from the beginning, or rather long before 
our birth, how superfluous a labour to beget us at all, and 
how unkind of it to dangle after it, in addition to its own 
intelligence, these poor blundering and troubled thoughts 
of which alone we are aware ! Evidently the governing 
principle in seeds is no soul in this modern sense, no thinking 
moral being ; it is a mysterious habit in matter. Whether 
this total habit is reducible to minor habits of matter, 
prevalent in the world at large, is the question debated 
between mechanical and vitalist psychologists ; but it is 
a stupid controversy. The smallest unit of mechanism is 
an event as vital, as groundless, and as creative as it is 
possible for an event to be ; it summons fresh essences into 


existence, which the character of the essences previously 
embodied in existence by no means implied dialectically. 
On the other hand, the romantic adventure of life, if it is 
not a series of miracles and catastrophes observed ex post 
facto, must be a resultant of simpler habits struggling or 
conspiring together. However minute, therefore, or how 
ever comprehensive the units by which natural processes 
are described, they are equally vital and equally mechanical, 
equally free and (for an observer with a sufficient range of 
vision) equally predictable. On the human scale of ob 
servation it is the larger habits of living beings that are 
most easily observed ; and the principle of these habits, 
transmitted by a seed, I call the Psyche : it is either a 
complex of more minute habits of matter, or a mastering 
rhythm imposed upon them by the habit of the species. 
Many Greek philosophers taught that the Psyche was 
material ; and even Plato, although of course his Psyche 
might eventually take to thinking, regarded it as primarily 
a principle of motion, growth, and unconscious government ; 
so that the associations of the word Psyche are not re 
pugnant, as are those of the word soul, to the meaning I 
wish to give to it : that habit in matter which forms the 
human body and the human mind. 1 

There is, then, in every man a Psyche, or inherited 
nucleus of life, which from its dormant seminal condition 

1 I beg the learned to notice that the Psyche, as I use the term, 
is not a material atom but a material system, stretching over both 
time and space ; it is not a monad ; it has not the unity proper 
to consciousness ; nor is it a mass of " subconscious," mental 
discourse. The Psyche may be called a substance in respect to 
mental and moral phenomena which (I think) are based on modes 
or processes in matter, not on any material particle taken singly ; 
but the Psyche is not a substance absolutely, since its own sub 
stance is matter in a certain arrangement in other words, body. 
Matter may be called mind-stuff or psychic substance inasmuch as 
it can become on occasion the substance of a Psyche, and through 
the Psyche the basis of mind ; but of course not in the sense that 
matter may be an aggregate of thinking spirits. Mental events 
may be called psychic when we consider their origin rather than 
their essence, as certain pleasures are called material, although 
pleasures, in being, are all equally spiritual. " Psychic phenomena " 
are crudely material, and " psychical research " has for its object, 
not spirits in another world, but the habits of matter that produce 


expands and awakes anew in each generation, becoming 
the person recognized in history, law, and morals. A 
man s body is a sort of husk of which his Psyche (itself 
material) is the kernel ; and it is out of the predispositions 
of this living seed, played upon by circumstances, that his 
character and his mind are formed. The Psyche s first 
care is to surround itself with outer organs, like a spider 
with its web ; only these organs remain subject to her 
central control, and are the medium by which she acts 
upon outer things, and receives, in her patient labour, the 
solicitations and rebuffs of fortune. The Psyche, being 
essentially a way of living, a sort of animated code of 
hygiene and morals, is a very selective principle : she is 
perpetually distinguishing in action, if not in words 
between good and bad, right and wrong. Choice is the 
breath of her nostrils. All the senses, instincts, and passions 
are her scouts. The further she extends her influence the 
more she feels how dependent she is on external things, 
and the more feverishly she tries to modify them, so as 
to render them more harmonious with her own impulses. 

At first, when she was only a vegetative Psyche, she 
waited in a comparatively peaceful mystical torpor for the 
rain or the sunshine to foster her, or for the cruel winter 
or barbarous scythe to cut her down ; and she never would 
have survived at all if breeding had not been her chief 
preoccupation ; but she distributed herself so multitudin- 
ously and so fast amongst her children, that she has sur 
vived to this day. Later, she found a new means of safety 
and profit in locomotion ; and it was then that she began 
to perceive distinct objects, to think, and to plan her 
actions accomplishments by no means native to her. Like 
the Chinese, she is just as busy by night as by day. Long 
before sunrise she is at work in her subterranean kitchen 
over her pots of stewing herbs, her looms, and her spindles ; 
and with the first dawn, when the first ray of intuition 
falls through some aperture into those dusky spaces, what 
does it light up ? The secret springs of her life ? The 
aims she is so faithfully but blindly pursuing ? Far from 
it. Intuition, floods of intuition, have been playing for 
ages upon human life : poets, painters, men of prayer, 
scrupulous naturalists innumerable, have been intent on 


their several visions ; yet of the origin and of the end of 
life we know as little as ever. And the reason is this : 
that intuition is not a material organ of the Psyche, like 
a hand or an antenna ; it is a miraculous child, far more 
alive than herself, whose only instinct is play, laughter, 
and brooding meditation. This strange child who could 
have been his father ? is a poet ; absolutely useless and 
incomprehensible to his poor mother, and only a new 
burden on her shoulders, because she can t help feeding 
and loving him. He sees ; which to her is a mystery, 
because although she has always acted as if, in some 
measure, she felt things at a distance, she has never seen 
and never can see anything. Nor are his senses, for all 
their vivacity, of any use to her. For what do they 
reveal to him ? Always something irrelevant : a shaft of 
dusty light across the rafters, a blue flame dancing on the 
coals, a hum, a babbling of waters, a breath of heat or 
of coolness, a mortal weariness or a groundless joy all 
dream-images, visions of a play world, essences painted on 
air, such as any poet might invent in idleness. Yet the 
child cares about them immensely : he is full of sudden 
tears and of jealous little loves. " Hush, my child," says 
good mother Psyche, " it s all nonsense." It is not for 
those fantastic visions that she watches : she knits with 
her eyes shut, and mutters her same old prayers. She has 
always groped amidst obstacles like a mole pressing on 
where the earth is softest. She can tell friends from enemies 
(not always correctly) by a mysterious instinct within her, 
and the rhythm, as it were, of their approaching step. She 
is long-suffering and faithful, like Penelope ; but when hard- 
pressed and at bay she becomes fierce. She is terribly 
absolute then, blindly bent on vengeance and wild de 
struction. At other times she can melt and be generous ; 
in her beehive she is not only the congregation of workers, 
but also the queen. Her stubborn old-womanish temper 
makes her ordinarily unjust to her best impulses and 
hypocritical about her worst ones. She is artful but not 
intelligent, least of all about herself. For this reason she 
can never understand how she gave birth to such a thankless 
child. She hardly remembers the warm ray from the sun 
or from some other celestial source which one day pierced 


to her heart, and begat there this strange uneasiness, this 
truant joy, which we call thought. Seeing how quick and 
observant the brat is, she sometimes sends him on errands ; 
but he loiters terribly on the way, or loses it altogether, 
forgets what he was sent for, and brings home nothing but 
strange tales about Long-noses and Helmets-of-gold, whom 
he says he has encountered. He prefers the poppies to 
the corn, and half the mushrooms he picks are of the 
poisonous variety ; he sometimes insists on setting apart 
his food for imaginary beings called the dead or the gods ; 
and worst of all, he once ravished and married a fairy, 
whom he called Truth ; and he wished to bring her to live 
with him at home. At that, good mother Psyche naturally 
put her foot down. No hussies here ! Yet there are 
moments when she relents, when her worn old hands rest 
in her lap, when she remembers and wonders, and two 
cold tears trickle down from her blind eyes. What is the 
good of all her laboui ? Has it all been, perhaps, for his 
sake, that he might live and sing and be happy ? Even 
in her green days, in her cool vegetable economy, there 
had been waste ; she had unwittingly put forth flowers she 
could not see and diffused a fragrance that eluded her. 
Now her warmer heart has bred this wilder, this diviner 
folly : a wanton sweetness shed by her longer travail and 
a flower of her old age. But he forgets her in his selfishness, 
and she can never, never understand him. 


I HEAR that Oxford is reading Plotinus a blessed change 
from Hegel. The pious mind is still in the age of mytho 
logy ; science has confused its own lessons, for want of 
a philosopher who should understand them ; and what 
matters, so long as the age of mythology lasts, is that the 
myths that occupy the fancy should be wise and beautiful, 
and should teach men to lay up their treasures in heaven. 
The philosophy of Plotinus does this, and does it magnifi 
cently. Like that of Plato and of Aristotle it is little more 


than a rhetorical inversion or perpetual metaphor, express 
ing the aim of life under the figure of a cosmos which is 
animate and which has already attained its perfection. 
Considering the hurried life which we are condemned to 
lead, and the shifting, symbolic ideas to which we are 
confined, it seems hardly worth while to quarrel with such 
inspired fabulists, or to carp at the cosmic dress in which 
they present their moralities. Gentle, secluded, scholastic 
England does well to platonize. It had never ceased to do 
so. In spite of the restiveness, sometimes, of barbarian 
blood, in spite of Hebraic religion and Germanic philo 
sophy, the great classical tradition has always been seated 
here ; and England has shared, even if with a little reserve 
and mistrust, in the ecclesiastical, courtly, military, and 
artistic heritage of Europe. A genuine child of the past, 
who is bred to knowledge of the world, and does not plunge 
into it greedily like a stranger, cannot worship the world ; 
he cannot really be a snob. Those who have profited by 
a long life cannot possibly identify the divine life with 
the human. They will not be satisfied with a philosophy 
that is fundamentally worldly, that cannot lift up its heart 
except pragmatically, because the good things are hanging 
from above, or because the long way round by righteousness 
and the ten commandments may be the shortest cut to 
the promised land. Their love of wisdom will not be merely 
provisional, nor their piety a sort of idyllic interlude, 
penitent but hopeful, comforting itself with the thought 
that the sour grapes will soon be ripe, and oh, so delicious ! 
They will not remember the flesh-pots of Egypt with an 
eternal regret, and the flesh-pots of Berlin and New York 
will not revive their appetite. 

Spirit is not an instrument but a realization, a fruition. 
At every stage, and wherever it peeps out through the 
interstices of existence, it is a contemplation of eternal 
things. Eternal things are not other material things by 
miracle existing for ever in another world ; eternal things 
are the essences of all things here, when we consider what 
they are in themselves and not what, in the world of fortune, 
they may bring or take away from us personally. That is 
why piety and prayer are spiritual, when they cease to be. 
magic operations or efforts of a celestial diplomacy : they 



lead us into the eternal world. Platonism is a great 
window in the same direction. It is well to open it afresh. 
I should not say of the typical Englishman, any more 
than of the typical Greek, that he was spiritual ; both are 
healthy, and the spirit in them is not so developed as to 
sickly o er their native hue with the pale cast of thought, 
nor to surround their heads with any visible aureole of 
consuming fire. Yet I think that their very health saves 
them both from worldliness : for life would not be healthy 
and free, but diseased and slavish, if it were ultimately 
turned only towards its instruments and to the pressing 
need of keeping itself going ; a life so employed would 
not be worth living, and a healthy spirit would abandon it. 
The normal Englishman, like the normal Greek, is addressed 
to spiritual things, even if distantly ; so that when for any 
reason his spiritual life is intensified, he will create or 
adopt a spiritual philosophy, like that of Plotinus. His 
inner man is selective ; he is accustomed not to accept 
unquestioningly the suasion of custom and not to tremble 
before material grandeur. He is an explorer ; he has some 
notion of the extent and variety of nature, with enough 
appreciative contempt for its tropical splendours, moral 
and geographical ; it is with a clear inward satisfaction, 
even if with some grumbling of the flesh, that he turns 
his back upon them for the sake of his sweet, separate, cool, 
country life at home. He loves the earth, not the world. 
His ideal is that people everywhere should be steady and 
happy, in their way, as he is in his ; and if he feels some 
glow at the power and influence of his country, or the spread 
of his religion, it is not because he covets domination or a 
Roman grandiloquent greatness, but because he feels that 
when others take to his ways he will be safer in them 
himself, and the world more decent. He wishes to be 
free, free to choose his walks, his friends, his thoughts, 
his employments ; and this freedom, although it may be 
employed only on commonplace and earthly things, is 
the very principle of spirituality, and a beginning in it. 

What spirituality is when developed fully may be seen 
clearly in the system of Plotinus. It is a system of morals 
inverted and turned into a cosmology ; everything in his 
magic universe is supposed to be created and moved by 


the next higher being, to which by nature it aspires ; so 
that life everywhere is a continual prayer, and if it cannot 
actually shake off its fetters and take wing into a higher 
sphere, at least it imitates and worships the forms which 
beckon to it from there. All this is a true allegory ; if 
any one takes it for natural science he must think it a 
very poor speculation ; because if the higher thing in each 
instance were really the source of the lower, it never could 
have determined the time, place, number, distribution, or 
imperfection of its copies ; and the whole drama of creation, 
in everything except its tendency and meaning, must be 
due to specific and various predispositions in matter, for 
which this system, in its scientific impotence, has forgotten 
to make room. It would be easy, however, to supply 
this defect. We might start, as nature actually did, at 
the bottom, and pass at once to the level at which the 
Psyche, having organized the vital functions of the human 
animal, begins to ask itself what it is living for. The 
answer is not, as an unspiritual philosophy would have it : 
In order to live on. The true answer is : In order to 
understand, in order to see the Ideas. Those Ideas which 
the Psyche is able and predestined to discern are such as 
are illustrated or suggested by its own life, or by the 
aspects which nature presents to it. Each Idea will be 
the ideal of something with which the Psyche is naturally 
conversant; but the good of all these psychic labours 
will lie precisely in clarifying and realizing that ideal. 
To envisage and clearly to discern the Idea of what we are 
about is the whole of art, spiritually considered ; it is all 
the mind can or need do ; and the more singly the spirit 
is rapt in the meaning and vision of the work, the more 
skilfully the hand and the tongue will perform it. And 
the standard and criterion of their skill is in turn precisely 
the same vision of the Idea : for, I ask, what makes an 
action or a feeling right, except that it clears away obstruc 
tions and brings us face to face with the thing we love ? 
The whole of natural life, then, is an aspiration after the 
realization and vision of Ideas, and all action is for the sake 
of contemplation. 

Plato and Aristotle had been satisfied to stop at this 
stage ; but Plotinus carries us one step further. What is 


the good of seeing the Ideas ? I do not ask, of course, 
what is its utility, because we have left that behind, but 
what is the nature of the excellence which various Ideas 
seem to have in common, like beauty, or affinity with the 
harmonious and perfected life of the Psyche. Plotinus says 
that what lends excellence to the Ideas is the One ; and I 
cannot connect perhaps we ought not to connect any 
idea with those words. But by looking at the matter 
naturalistically perhaps we may discover whence the 
excellence of Ideas and of the vision of them actually 
flows. It flows from health, which is a unity of function, and 
it flows from love, which is an emotional unity pervading 
that function, and suffusing its object, when it comes before 
the mind, with beauty and inexpressible worth. Here, if 
I am not mistaken, we have the key to the whole mystery, 
both in Plotinus and in Plato. The One or the Good is 
the mythical counterpart of moral harmony in the spirit ; 
it is the principle by which the Ideas were disentangled 
from the detail of experience and the flux of objects, and 
it is again the principle by which the Ideas themselves are 
consecrated, illumined, and turned into forms of Joy. 

Spirituality, then, lies in regarding existence merely 
as a vehicle for contemplation, and contemplation merely 
as a vehicle for joy. Epicurus was far more spiritual 
than Moses. But Epicurus could free the spirit only in 
the presence of the simplest things ; the universe terrified 
him, quite without reason, so that his spirituality was 
fumbling, timid, and sad. For Plotinus the universe had 
no terrors ; he liked to feel himself consumed and burning 
in the very heart of the sun, and poured thence in a flood 
of light from sphere to sphere. We, in this remote shore 
of time, may catch that ray and retrace it ; it will lead 
us into good company. 


How comes it that the word Idea, so redolent of Platonism, 
has been the fulcrum on which British philosophy has 
turned in its effort to dislodge Platonism from its founda- 

IDEAS 229 

tions, and to lay bare the positive facts ? The vicissitudes 
of words are instructive ; they show us what each age 
understood or forgot in the wisdom of its predecessors, 
and what new things it discovered to which it gave the 
old names. The beauty which Plato and the English 
saw in Ideas was the same beauty ; they both found in 
Ideas the immediate, indubitable object of knowledge. 
And nevertheless, hugging the same certitude, they became 
sure of entirely different things. 

The word Idea ought to mean any theme which atten 
tion has lighted up, any aesthetic or logical essence, so 
long as it is observed in itself or used to describe some 
ulterior existence. Amid a thousand metaphysical and 
psychological abuses of the term this purely ideal significa 
tion sometimes reappears in polite speech ; for instance 
when Athalie says, in Racine : 

J ai deux f ois, en dormant, revu la m6me ide e. 

Here, perhaps by chance, the word is used with absolute 
propriety and its chief implications are indicated. An Idea 
is something seen, an immediate presence ; it is something 
seen in a dream, or imaginary ; and it is the same Idea 
when seen a second time, or a universal. That universals 
are present to intuition was the secret of Plato ; yet it is 
the homeliest of truths. It comes to seem a paradox, 
or even inconceivable, because people suppose they see 
what they believe they are looking at, which is some 
particular thing, the object of investigation, of desire, 
and of action ; they overlook the terms of their thought, 
as they overlook the perspective of the landscape. These 
terms, which are alone immediate, are all universals. 
Belief the expectation, fear, or sense of events hidden 
or imminent precedes clear perception ; but it is supposed 
to be derived from it. Perception without belief would 
be mere intuition of Ideas, and no belief in things or ulterior 
events could ever be based on it. A seraph who should 
know only Ideas would be incapable of conceiving any 
fact, or noting any change, or discovering his own spiritual 
existence ; he would be mathematics actualized, a land 
scape self -composed, and love spread like butter. The 
human mind, on the contrary, is the expression of an 


animal life, swimming hard in the sea of matter. It 
begins by being the darkest belief and the most helpless 
discomfort, and it proceeds gradually to relieve this 
uneasiness and to tincture this blind faith with more and 
more luminous Ideas. Ideas, in the discovery of facts, 
are only graphic symbols, the existence and locus of the 
facts thus described being posited in the first place by animal 
instinct and watchfulness. If we suspend these eager 
explorations for a moment, and check our practical haste 
in understanding the material structure of things and in 
acting upon them, it becomes perfectly obvious that the 
data of actual intuition are sounds, figures, movements, 
landscapes, stories all universal essences appearing, and 
perhaps reappearing, as in a trance. 

I think that Plato in his youth must have seen his 
Ideas with this mystical directness, and must have felt 
the irritation common to mystics at being called back out 
of that poetic ecstasy into the society of material things. 
Those essences were like the gods, clear and immortal, 
however fugitive our vision of them might be ; whereas 
things were in their inmost substance intricate and obscure 
and treacherously changeable ; you could never really 
know what any of them was, nor what it might become. 
The Ideas were our true friends, our natural companions, 
and all our safe knowledge was of them ; things were only 
vehicles by which Ideas were conveyed to us, as the copies 
of a book are vehicles for its sense. 

Nevertheless, the happy intuition of pure essences of all 
sorts, as life vouchsafes it to the free poet or to the logician, 
could not satisfy the heart of Plato. He felt the burden, 
the incessant sweet torment, of the flesh ; and when age 
as I think we may detect in the changed tone of his 
thoughts relieved him of this obsession, which had been 
also his first inspiration, it only reinforced an obsession of 
a different kind, the indignation of an aristocrat and the 
sorrow of a patriot at the doom which hung visibly over 
his country. The fact that love intervened from the be 
ginning in Plato s vision of the Ideas explains why his 
Ideas were not the essences actually manifested in ex 
perience, as it comes to the cold eye or the mathematical 
brain. When love looks, the image is idealized ; it does 

IDEAS 231 

not show the obvious, but the dreamt-of and the desired. 
Platonism is not pure intuition,Jbuj^mfaij^n__cha.rged with 
eritfTusiasm. Then, to reinforce this mystification oflFe 
ideas By love, there was the passionate political impulse 
to contrast the form things actually wore with that which 
they ought to have worn. This double moral bias, of love 
and of hate, with its dismissal of almost all given essences 
as not the right essences, produced the curious hierarchy of 
Platonic Ideas ; themes belonging to the realm of essence 
by their ontological texture or mode of being, yet clinging, 
like a faithful shadow or simplified echo, to the morphology 
of earthly things. The poet in Plato had been entrapped 
by the moralist, and the logician enslaved by the legislator. 
He turned away from the disinterested vision of the Ideas 
in their endless variety ; he lost, he almost blushed to have 
possessed, the genial faculty of his anonymous ancestors, 
the creators 6f mythology, who could see gods in all things. 
He cultivated instead the art of a nearer progenitor of his, 
Solon, and attempted to make laws for Athens, for man 
kind, and even for the universe. He did it admirably ; 
the Timaeus, his book on nature, is a beautiful myth, and 
his book on the Laws is a monument of wisdom. But Plato 
had grown forgetful of the Ideas, and of the life of intui 
tion ; his gaze had become sad, troubled, and hopeless ; 
he was preoccupied with making existence safe. But 
how should existence be safe ? How should those tiny 
nut-shells his walled city and his walled cosmos keep 
afloat for ever in this rolling sea of vagueness and 
infinity ? 

When breeding or conscience suppresses a man s genius, 
his genius often takes its revenge and reasserts itself, by 
some indirection, in the very system that crushed it. This 
happened to paganism when, being stamped out by Chris 
tianity, it turned Christianity into something half pagan. 
It happened also to Plato when, the world having distracted 
him from his Ideas, he made a supernatural world out of 
them, to govern and correct this nether world, in which he 
was forced to live. To say that Ideas govern the world is 
safe and easy, if these Ideas are merely names for the forms 
which the world happens to wear. Nature is bound to 
present some Idea or other to the mind ; but the Ideas it 


presents actually will be only a few, and not the most 
welcome, since this world is a most paradoxical, odd, and 
picturesque object, and not at all the sort of world which 
the human mind (being a highly specialized part of it) 
would have made or can easily believe to be real. The 
Ideas which a philosopher says govern the world are not 
likely to be its true laws ; and, if he has really drawn 
them from observation, they cannot possibly be all, nor 
the best, Ideas on which his free mind would have chosen 
to dwell. The truth, which is a standard for the naturalist, 
for the poet is only a stimulus ; and in many an idealist 
the poet debauches the naturalist, and the naturalist 
paralyses the poet. The earth might well upbraid Plato 
for trying to build his seven -walled cloud-castle on her 
back, and to circumscribe her in his magic circles. Why 
should she be forbidden to exhibit any other essences than 
those authorized by this metaphysical Solon ? Why should 
his impoverished Olympian theology be imposed upon her, 
and ah 1 her pretty dryads and silly fauns, all her harpies 
and chimeras, be frowned upon and turned into black 
devils ? How these people who would moralize nature 
hate nature ; and if they loved nature, how sweetly and 
firmly would morality take its human place there without 
all this delusion and bluster ! But I am not concerned so 
much with the violence done by Plato to nature ; nature 
can take care of herself, and being really the mother even 
of the most waspish philosopher, with his sting and his 
wings and his buzzing, she can comfortably find room for 
him and his system amongst her swarming children. I 
wish I knew if the real wasps, too, have a philosophy, and 
what it is ; probably as vital and idealistic as that of the 
Germans. But I am grieved rather at the servitude and 
at the stark aspect imposed on the Platonic Ideas by their 
ambition to rule the world. They are like the shorn 
Samson in the treadmill ; they have lost the radiance and 
the music of Phoebus Apollo. Socrates taught that to do 
wrong is to suffer harm ; and his Ideas, in establishing 
their absurd theocracy over nature, were compelled to 
bend their backs to that earth -labour, and to become 
merely a celestial zoology, a celestial grammar, and a 
celestial ethics. Heaven had stooped to rule the earth, 

IDEAS 233 

and the crooked features of the earth had cast their 
grotesque shadow on heaven. 

This is the first chapter in the sad history of Ideas. 
Now for the second. 

The honest Englishman does not care much for Ideas, 
because in his labour he is occupied with things and in 
his leisure with play, or with rest in a haze of emotional 
indolence : but finding himself, for the most part, deep in 
the mess of business, he is heartily desirous of knowing 
the facts ; and when, in his scrupulous inquiry into the 
facts, he finds at bottom only Ideas, and is constrained to 
become a philosopher against his will, he contrives, out of 
those very Ideas, to elicit some knowledge of fact. Ideas 
are not intrinsically facts, but suppositions ; they are 
descriptions offering themselves officiously as testimonials 
for facts whose character remains problematical, since, if 
there were no such facts, the Ideas would still be the same ; 
yet, says the melancholy Jaques to himself, "Is it not a 
fact that I have made this dubious supposition ? Am I 
not entertaining this Idea ? This sad but undeniable ex 
perience of mine, not the fact which I sought nor the Idea 
which I found, is the actual fact, and the undeniable ex 
istence." Thus the occurrence of any experience, or the 
existence of any illusion, assumes the names both of fact 
and of idea in his vocabulary, and the existence of ideas 
becomes the corner-stone of his philosophy. 

The most candid and delightful of English philosophers 
(who was an Irishman) was Berkeley. In his ardent youth, 
like Plato, he awoke to pure intuition : he saw Ideas, or 
at least he saw that he did not see material things ; but 
instead of studying these Ideas for their own sake with a 
steadier gaze, he took up the disputatious notion of denying 
that material things existed at all, because he could not 
see them. It was a great simplification ; and if he had not 
had conventional and apologetic axes to grind, he might 
have reached the radical conclusion, familiar to Indian 
sages, that nothing could exist at all, least of all himself. 
Language, however, and the Cartesian philosophy, made it 
easy for him to assume that of course he existed, since he 
saw these Ideas ; and he was led by a malicious demon to 
add, that the Ideas existed too, since he saw them, so long 


as they were visible to him. But if he existed only in that 
he saw the Ideas, and the Ideas existed in that he saw 
them, was there any difference at all between himself seeing 
and the Ideas seen ? None, I am afraid : so that he himself, 
whom he had proudly called a spirit, would be in truth 
only a series of ideas (I spell them now with a small i), 
and the ideas in which he had not stopped to recognize 
eternal essences would be only the pulses of his fugitive 

Here is substance for an excellent ironical system of the 
universe, such as some philosopher in Greece might have 
espoused ; a flux of absolute intensive existences, variously 
coloured and more or less warm, like the sparks of a rocket. 
Some scientific philosopher in our day or in the future 
may be tempted to work out this system, and it might 
have been the true one. But I see an objection to it from 
the point of view of British philosophy, which covets 
knowledge of fact. The philosopher conceiving this system, 
if the system was true, would be only one of those sparks ; 
he could have no idea except the idea which he was ; the 
whole landscape before him would be but the fleeting 
nature of himself. Although, therefore, by an infinitely 
improbable accident, his philosophy might be true, he could 
have no reason to think it true, and no possibility of not 
thinking it so. A genuine sceptic might be satisfied with 
this result, enjoying each moment of his being, and laughing 
at his own perpetual pretension of knowing anything 
further. And since extremes meet, such a mocking sceptic 
might easily become, like Plato, a lover of pure Ideas. If 
he really abandons all claims, all hopes, all memory which 
is more than fantasy, and simply enjoys the illusion of the 
moment, he dwells on an Idea, which is all that an illusion 
can supply. The immediate has a mystical charm ; it un 
veils some eternal essence, and the extreme of renunciation, 
like a sacrificial death, brings a supreme security in another 
sphere. Berkeley and Hume were little more than boys 
when they fell in love with Ideas ; perhaps, if we knew 
their personal history, we should find that they were little 
children when they first did so, and that pure Essence was 
the Beatrice that had secretly inspired all their lives. But 
though they were youths of genius, there was a touch in 

IDEAS 235 

them of the prig ; the immediate, dear as it is to fresh and 
honest hearts, was too unconventional for them legally to 
wed and to take home, as it were, to their worldly relations. 
In England to love Ideas is to sow one s intellectual wild 
oats. There may be something healthy and impetuous in 
that impulse which is engaging ; but it must not go too 
far, and above all it must not be permanent. The British 
philosopher dips into idealism in order to reform belief, to 
get rid of dangerous shams or uncongenial dogmas, not for 
the sake of pure intuition or instant assurance. He wishes 
to remove impediments to action ; he hates great remote 
objects as he hates popery and policy ; imposing things 
are impositions. Better get rid, if possible, of substance 
and cause and necessity and abstractions and self and 
consciousness. The purpose is to reduce everything to 
plain experience of fact, and to rest neither in pure intuition 
nor in external existences. For instance, he has two argu 
ments against the existence of matter which he finds 
equally satisf?xtory : one that matter cannot exist because 
he can form no idea of it, and the other that matter cannot 
exist because it is merely an idea which he forms. He 
descends to the immediate only for the sake of the ulterior, 
for the immediate in some other place. If he found himself 
reduced to essences actually given now, he would be terribly 
unhappy, and I am sure would renounce philosophy as a 
bad business, as he did in the person of Hume, his most 
profound representative. 

Thus European speculation, like the Athalie of Racine, 
has twice in its dreams beheld the same Ideas ; but like 
that uneasy heroine it has been troubled by the sight, and 
has stretched out its arms to grasp the painted shadow. 
The first time, instead of Ideas, it found a celestial hierarchy 
of dominations and powers, a bevy of magic influences, 
angels, and demons. The second time, instead of Ideas, 
it found an irrevocable flux of existing feelings, without 
cause, purpose, connection, or knowledge. Perhaps if on 
a third occasion the Ideas visited a less burdened and pre 
occupied soul, that could look on them without apprehen 
sion, they might be welcomed for their fair aspect and for 
the messages they convey from things, without being, in 
their own persons, either deified or materialized. 



CONCERNING the visions which men have of the gods 
there is much uncertainty. It is written that no man 
can see God and live ; but I think some evil god or evil 
man must be spoken of, and that they come nearer to the 
truth who say that the vision of God brings perfect 
happiness. I suspect this is true in a humbler and more 
familiar sense than is intended in discourses about the 
state of the soul in heaven ; for there is a heaven above 
every place, and the soul mounts to it in all its thoughts 
and actions, when these are perfect. I incline also to 
another opinion, which would surprise those religious friends 
of mine who call me an atheist ; namely, that whenever 
we see anything, we have, or might have if we chose, a 
partial vision of God, and a moment of happiness. For 
all experience comes to us fatally, from an alien source 
which in physics is called matter, in morals power or will, 
and in religion God ; so that by his power (as I learned 
when a child in my Spanish catechism) God is present in 
everything. The same authority added (and how full of 
meaning that word is to me now !) that he was also present 
in everything by his essence ; since what is brought 
unimpeachably before us in any vision is some essence 
which, being absolutely indestructible, is in that respect 
divine. It is indestructible because, if all trace and 
memory of it were destroyed, it would in that very obscura 
tion vindicate its essential identity, since not it, but only 
things different from it, would now exist. Every essence, 
therefore, lies eternally at the very foundations of being, 
and is a part of the divine immutability and necessity ; 
an intrinsic feature in that Nous or Logos which theologians 
tell us is the second hypostasis of the divine nature. 
Yet to say that we see God when we see him only in part 
is perhaps hazardous and open to objection, because a 
part of anything, separated from the rest, becomes a 
different being, qualitatively and numerically ; and it 
will be better to speak of our visions as visions of angels 
or messengers or demigods, having one divine parent and 


one human. In everything, if we regard it as it is in itself, 
and not selfishly, we may find an incarnation or manifesta 
tion of deity. 

How the divinity of our daily visitants shines out at 
certain moments and then again is obscured by our prac 
tical haste and inattention, is admirably expressed in the 
history of Helen. Her birth was miraculous, and yet 
quaintly natural, for her father Zeus, having taken the 
form of a swan when he wooed her mother Leda, she was 
hatched from a great white egg ; and there was always 
something swanlike in the movements of her neck, in the 
composure of her carriage, as if borne on still waters, in 
the scarcely flushed marble of her skin, and in the lightness 
and amplitude of her floating garments. She was hardly 
of this world, and it seemed almost a desecration to have 
wedded her to any mortal. Yet she offered no resistance 
to love ; it was indifferent to her whom she might 
enamour, or into what nest of robbers she might be 
carried by force. Was it not violence, she said to herself, 
to exist on earth at all ? What mattered a shade more or 
less of violence ? If she remained in a manner chaste and 
inviolate, it was only because she was too beautiful to tempt 
the lusts of men. Neither of her two husbands loved or 
understood her. Menelaus because he was a dullard, and 
Paris because he was a rake, approached her as they would 
have approached any other woman, and they found no 
great pleasure in her society. Yet wherever she appeared, 
every one stopped talking and was motionless ; and she 
was worshipped by all who saw her pass at a distance. 
Supreme beauty is foreign everywhere, yet everywhere 
has a right of domicile ; it opens a window to heaven, 
and is a cause of suspended animation and, as it were, 
ecstatic suicide in the heart of mortals. 

Helen passed her childhood dazed, but with a pleasing 
wonder, because she loved her brothers, and they, absorbed 
though they were habitually in their violent sports, were 
tender to her. When they died, how gladly would she have 
followed them and become the third star with them in 
heaven ! But she found herself married to Menelaus the 
king ; and this her first mansion at Sparta, the narrowest 
of citadels, was far from happy. The palace was a great 


farm-house, and the talk in it was all of harvests and 
cattle and horses and wars. The men were boors, and their 
scruples about sacrifices and auguries annoyed her ; being 
half divine, she felt no need for religion. " What advantage 
is it," she said in her thoughts, " to be a queen when I 
am a prisoner, or to be called beautiful where nobody 
looks at me." 

Accordingly it was with a vague hope and a secret 
desire for vengeance that she heard of the approach of a 
brilliant stranger, from a far more populous and flourishing 
city than Sparta, who came with gifts and a glib tongue 
to view the wonders of the island world. When his eyes 
fell on her, his unfeigned surprise filled her with exultation. 
To be so discerned, for her, was to be won. Those eyes 
could recognize divinity. No doubt he was preparing new 
fetters for her and new sorrows, but for a moment she 
would be free, and in following him she would feel herself 
; once more the goddess. 

In fact, so long as they sailed the dark-purple sea, or 
rested in caves or in island bowers, all was pleasantness 
between them. Their very galley, with its white sails 
spread, took on something of Helen s beauty, and seemed 
a cloud wafted across the Aegean, or the swan, her father, 
riding on the rippled reaches of the Meander. Paris 
proved a candid and light-hearted lover ; never vexed, 
he was all grace and mastery in small matters : one of those 
lordly travellers who can feel the charm of nature and of 
woman in every clime, however exotic, however pure, or 
however impure ; and the incomparable Helen seemed 
indeed incomparable to his practised mind. He adored 
her, but he preferred other women. Moreover, she found 
that at Troy he counted for nothing. He moved amid 
battles and councils, quite at home in the scene, but never 
consulted ; a prince turned shepherd, a familiar but super 
fluous ornament, like a fop or a ballet-dancer that every 
body smiled upon and nobody respected. It was given 
him in the end to slay the redoubtable Achilles with a 
chance arrow, Apollo secretly directing the shaft, but he 
was no warrior. It was a useless triumph, as his abduction 
of Helen had been an innocent crime : both were the work 
of gods laughing at human arrogance. There were doubt- 


less street rhetoricians in Ilium who upbraided Paris and 
Helen, as there are reasoning philosophers and politicians 
to-day who attribute the ascendancy or decay of nations 
to the ideas that prevail there, forgetting to ask why 
those particular ideas have been embraced by those 
peoples, when all ideas, in the universal market, are to 
be had gratis. The wise old Priam and his counsellors 
knew better. They did not disown Paris for his escapade, 
as they might so easily have done, nor did they return Helen 
to her wronged husband, useless as she was at Troy. They 
knew that the confused battles of earth must be fought 
over some nominal prize ; men and animals will always 
be fighting for something, not because the thing is 
necessarily of any value to them, but because they wish 
to snatch it from one another. Helen had lent her name 
and image to colour an ancient feud, and make articulate 
the dull eternal contention between Asia and Europe. 
It was for existence that each party was fighting ; but it 
added to their courage and self-esteem to say they were 
fighting for beauty, and that the victory of their side would 
be a victory for the gods. But the gods were in both camps, 
and in neither, as in her heart was Helen herself. In her 
isolation, her conscience sometimes reproached her, and 
she wondered that she never heard these reproaches from 
the lips of others. Hector and Priam and the other old 
men, even the queen and the gossiping women, treated 
her with deference ; but they cared only for Troy and for 
their own affairs. If less beset than in her strict old home, 
she was more neglected in these spacious palaces, and no 
less melancholy. Was it a miracle of generosity that 
nobody blamed her, or was it a supreme proof of indifference, 
that standing in the centre of the stage she remained un 
heeded ? Was she so much a goddess that they thought 
her a statue ? Would she be borne away by the victors 
like an inert Palladium, to be set up elsewhere on a new 
pedestal ? She did not understand that it is not the 
vision that men have of the gods that works their safety 
or ruin, but that fatal maladjustments, or natural vigour 
in them, in shaping their destiny, call that vision down. 
Nor is it an idle vision ; for the sight turns the dreary 
length of their misery into a tragedy flashing with light 


and tears ; and the presence of Helen on those beleaguered 
walls, which might have irritated the foolish, consoled the 
wise. She was not the cause of their danger nor of their 
coming disaster, as she had not been the cause of the 
harsh virtues of her Spartan clan ; but as those harsh 
virtues had created her beauty, so the wealth and exuberant 
civilization of Ilium had recognized it, and made it their 
own ; and she was a glory to both nations, for not every 
city, of all the cities that perish, has had a queen like her. 

When Troy fell at last, when Hector and Paris and 
Priam were dead, and Aeneas had escaped just in time, 
she waited, impassible, at the gate of the smoking acropolis, 
neither glad nor sorry, not ashamed to see her first husband 
again and his shouting friends for she despised them 
nor unwilling to be removed, as it were, into the evening 
shadow of her old queenliness. Something told her that 
in her second life at Sparta she would be more feared and 
more respected ; in her advancing age and intangible 
isolation she would be as a priestess whom no one not 
even Menelaus would dare to approach. Her crime would 
be her protection ; her rebellion, proudly acknowledged 
and never retracted in spirit, would lift her above all 
mankind. Even while still in this world, she would belong 
to the other. 

There is an obscure rumour that after the fall of Troy 
Helen never returned to Sparta but was spirited away 
to Egypt, whilst a mere phantasm resembling her ac 
companied her dull husband back to his dull fastness by 
the pebbly Eurotas. This turn given to the fable hints 
darkly at the unearthly truth. Helen was a phantom 
always and everywhere ; so long as men fought for her, 
taking her image, as it were, for their banner, she presided 
over a most veritable and bloody battle ; but when the 
battle ceased of itself, and all those heroes that had seen 
and idolized her were dead, the cerulean colours of that 
banner faded from it ; the shreds of it rotted indistinguish- 
ably in the mire, and the hues that had lent it for a moment 
its terrible magic fled back into the ether, where wind and 
mist, meteors and sunbeams, never cease to weave them. 
The passing of Helen was the death of Greece, but Helen 
herself is its immortality. Yet why seek to interpret the 


parable ? There is more depth of suggestion in these 
ancient myths than in any abstract doctrine which we 
may substitute for them. Homer and his companions 
certainly were not writing intentional allegories ; but 
they had a sense for beauty and a sense for the flux of 
things, and in those two perceptions the whole philosophy 
of Ideas is latent. Sight, thought, love arrest essences ; 
and time, perpetually undermining the existence that 
brings those essences before us, drives them, as fast as we 
can arrest them, like a sort of upward flaw, back into 

t 53 

I DO not conceive the Judgement of Paris as Rubens has 
painted it : an agricultural labourer leering at three fat 
women of the town who have gone into the country for a 
lark. This disrobing of goddesses, though there may be 
some ancient authority for it, does not conform to my 
principles of exegesis, and I pronounce it heretical. 
Goddesses cannot disrobe, because their attributes are 
their substance. They are like the images of the Virgin 
in Spanish churches ; if you are so ill-advised, you may 
take off their crown, their veils, and their stiffly embroidered 
conical mantle ; but what will remain will not be our 
Lady either of Mercies or of Sorrows, but a pole, with a 
doll s head and two hands attached. The spell lies in the 
ornaments, because they alone are symbolical and richly 
mysterious. Similarly the virtue of those pagan goddesses 
did not lie in what each might be in herself, either as a 
conscious spirit or as a beautiful titanic body endowed 
with free and immortal life ; their relevant virtue was 
tutelary, and lay in their patronage of particular crafts 
or passions in man. For this reason it was not absurd 
that they should be rivals in beauty. Of course in itself 
every nature, celestial or even earthly, is incomparable 
and perfect in its own way. But goddesses may well 
compete for the prize of beauty in the eyes of a mortal ; 
it is not their persons that he sees or can see, but their 


gifts ; and it is inevitable and right that these should 
not attract him equally. The Judgement of Paris is 
essentially like the Choice of Hercules, a moral choice and 
an expression of character. Only Paris was not asked to 
choose between good and evil, but between different 
goods ; his three goddesses were rivals like competing 
nations or religions : they proposed to him contrasted 
pursuits and forms of experience, such as each was wont 
to secure for her votaries. Their offers were not bribes, 
but tests ; and yet the suspicion is quite justified that they 
were tempting him ; because in fact none of them had 
true happiness to give. They represented interests, not 
reason ; each secretly felt the weakness of her own cause, 
and wished to have her claims to superiority (which she 
knew to be false) confirmed before the world, even by the 
suffrage of fools. A bad conscience loves to be flattered and 
reassured ; company consoles it for loss of honour. That 
is why these assiduous goddesses run to every youth and 
whisper their soft eloquence in his ear. 

Methinks I see Juno appearing in a sunlit cloud, with a 
diadem of stars, and clothed in a floating garment which 
Minerva had so cunningly woven that when seen in a certain 
light (in which Juno saw it) it represented the labours of 
Hercules, but from any other angle all the colours (which 
were those of the peacock) shifted their places and repre 
sented the treacheries of Jupiter. She bore the model of a 
city girt with seven walls, every gate, bastion, and battle 
ment complete, and in the midst of the towering acropolis 
a great temple, doubtless that of Juno, surrounded by 
smaller temples for the other gods. Raising a white and 
queenly hand, as if in warning or in blessing, she spoke 
as follows : 

" I will give thee dominion over the world and over 
thyself, if thou wilt first deliver up thyself and the world 
into my keeping. I am skilled in the governance of men, 
and my ancient laws, though they seem hard, bring dis 
cipline into their lives, and fortify them in seemly habits 
of labour and holiness." 

" Perhaps," Paris replied, " if the other gods cannot 
offer me freedom, I might accept from thee a noble servi 


Minerva took heart at these words, thinking herself 
nothing if not emancipated, and interposed her form, 
shining in its golden armour, yet obscured by the azure 
light of her eyes. " I will give thee," she cried, " philosophy 
natural, moral, logical, and rhetorical. I will endue thy 
mind with a perfect image of the spheres musically en 
closing the earth. Thou shalt possess knowledge of all 
genera and species of animals, herbs, seeds, gestations, and 
diseases. All measures and proportions, both of numbers 
and of forms, shall be clear to thee as the light of day. 
The arts of tillage and planting and mining and weaving 
and building all save trade and voyages, forbidden to a 
good man shall have no secrets for thee : to the advan 
tage of thy fellow-citizens, if ever they should choose thee 
for their legislator." 

" Perhaps," Paris again answered, " when I grow weary 
of being a shepherd, I may not disdain to become a 
philosopher. It is a better pastime for old age. But as 
I am no shepherd in reality, but a prince, dwelling on 
Mount Ida in this vernal season for pleasure and for the 
sake of these rural sights and savours of solitude, so later 
I should be no sophist with illusions ; I should merely 
entertain my wintry leisure with the fictions of the learned, 
as a prince may : for they are other pictures." 

Venus, whose marble nakedness was not remarked, so 
divine was it and so constitutional, smiled to hear the youth 
say this, because it was what she secretly approved, and 
she added disdainfully : " Thou art wise enough already 
in the use of words ; but what hast thou tasted of ex 
perience ? Consider the gift I can give thee : Possession 
of the Immediate. Is not this the best ? " 

" Yes," he replied, smiling in return, " but I have that 
in any case." 

It might seem that this version of the Judgement of 
Paris errs in not giving a clear victory to Venus and in 
saying nothing of Helen ; but such a reproach would be 
hasty. Possession of the Immediate had always seemed to 
Paris the highest, if not the only, good, as his bucolic life 
and pastoral amusements could prove : and when the heart 
has chosen, it is not necessary to express in words the 
preference for a deity so clearly favoured. To real shep- 


herds, born and bred on the mountain-side, Arcadia is full 
of dirt, hardship, and poverty ; sunrise and sunset are 
heavy to them ; they fatten their sheep in order to shear 
and to slaughter them, and they love a green pasture 
because it fattens the sheep. So too the eclogues of town 
poets, and the toy Arcadias of Versailles or of the carnival, 
in their satin slippers and gilded crooks, are a forced 
labour, and tedious ; at best a new masquerade in which 
the jaded may continue to make love. But there is a 
poetic Arcadia none the less, the real Arcadia mirrored in 
a contemplative mind. Idle vision neither is what it looks 
at, nor apes it : it is infinitely other, yet in looking forgets 
itself, and lends its heart gladly to the spectacle. Paris 
shirked none of the labours or bestialities of the country 
swain ; with a semi-divine tolerance he relished those 
rough sports and those monotonous pipings : anything a 
creature can love, some god finds lovable. He tussled 
with those wenches, and the crude scent of those smoking 
kettles did not turn his stomach. Had it been less mal 
odorous at court ? Was there not more freedom, more 
laughter, and greater plenty here ? If Paris was not a 
hero, at least he was not a snob. He was a truant prince, 
a fop become a shepherd, with a body and a mind capable 
of great things, but doing easy things from choice. In his 
very softness, since it was voluntary, there was a kind of 
strength, the strength of indifference, and freedom, and 
universal derision. And his cynicism was voluptuous. Idle 
vision in him gilded alike everything it saw. He had 
chosen, and would never lose, possession of the Immediate. 
As to Helen, I have not ignored her. The gods called 
Paris Alexander, and a private oracle has revealed to me 
that they also had another name for Helen, which was 
Doxa or Epiphaneia, that is to say, Glory or Evidence or 
(being otherwise interpreted) Seeming or Phantom. She 
was not substantial, but a manifestation of something else. 
Her beauty was her all, and what was her beauty to her 
self ? A myriad potential appearances wait in the intricate 
recesses of substance, or in the ethereal web of lights and 
motions that vibrates through the infinite, ready for the 
quick eye that can discern them. This discernment is at 
once a birth and a marriage. No sooner is the fair phantom 


called into existence than she has already leapt, as if carried 
by destiny, into her lover s arms ; for nothing can be more 
longed for, or more rapturously beautiful when it appears, 
than perfect evidence is to the mind. And the womb of 
nature, too, in its dark fertility, must be relieved to bring 
something to light at last. Yet this rare concourse of 
desires, and this blissful marriage, proves in the end most 
unhappy, for there is sin in it. 

As all desperate lovers, in the absence of their true love, 
embrace what best they can find, though a false object, so 
spirit which, if not entangled in circumstance and heavy 
with dreams, would embrace the truth, must embrace 
appearance instead. There is a momentary lyrical joy 
even in that, because appearance has a being of its own ; 
it has form, like Helen, and magic comings and goings, 
like visions of the gods : and if spirit were not incarnate 
and had nothing to fear or pursue, appearance would be 
the only reality it would care to dwell on. It was princely 
of Paris to love only the Immediate, but it was inhuman 
and unwise ; and Venus had seduced him not only to his 
ruin (we must all die sooner or later) but to his disgrace 
and perpetual misery. A spirit lodged in time, place, and 
an animal body needs to be mindful of existence ; it needs 
to respect the past, the hidden, the ulterior. It should be 
satisfied with what beauties are visible from its station, 
and with such truths as are pertinent to its fate. It should 
study appearance for the sake of substance. But as the 
joy of a free spirit is in perfect evidence, in Doxa or 
Epiphaneia, it inevitably flouts substance and embraces 
appearance instead. The Rape of Helen is this adulterous 
substitution, dazzling but criminal. 


Now that for some years my body has not been visible in 
the places it used to haunt (my mind, even then, being 
often elsewhere), my friends in America have fallen into 
the habit of thinking me dead, and with characteristic 


haste and kindness, they are writing obituary notices, as 
it were, on my life and works. Some of these reach me 
in this other world the friendly ones, which their authors 
send me and without the aid of any such stratagem as 
Swift s, I have the strange pleasure of laughing at my own 
epitaphs. It is not merely the play of vanity that enters 
into this experience, nor the occasional excuse for being 
unfair in return ; there comes with it a genuine discovery 
of the general balance of one s character. A man has 
unrivalled knowledge of the details of his life and feelings, 
but it is hard for him to compose his personage as it 
appears in the comedy of the world, or in the eyes of other 
people. It is not true that contemporaries misjudge a 
man. Competent contemporaries judge him perfectly, much 
better than posterity, which is composed of critics no less 
egotistical and obliged to rely exclusively on documents 
easily misinterpreted. The contemporary can read more 
safely between the lines ; and if the general public often 
misjudges the men of its own time, the general public hears 
little of them. It is guided by some party tag or casual 
association, by the malignity or delusion of some small 
coterie that has caught its ear : how otherwise should it 
judge ideas it has not grasped and people it has not seen ? 
But public opinion is hardly better informed about the past 
than about the present, and histories are only newspapers 
published long after the fact. 

As to my person, my critics are very gentle, and I am 
sensible of the kindness, or the diffidence, with which they 
treat me. I do not mind being occasionally denounced 
for atheism, conceit, or detachment. One has to be oneself ; 
and so long as the facts are not misrepresented and I 
have little to complain of on that score any judgement 
based upon them is a two-edged sword : people simply 
condemn what condemns them. I can always say to 
myself that my atheism, like that of Spinoza, is true piety 
towards the universe and denies only gods fashioned by 
men in their own image, to be servants of their human 
interests ; and that even in this denial I am no rude 
iconoclast, but full of secret sympathy with the impulses 
of idolaters. My detachment from things and persons is 
also affectionate, and simply what the ancients called 


philosophy : I consent that a flowing river should flow ; I 
renounce that which betrays, and cling to that which 
satisfies, and I relish the irony of truth ; but my security 
in my own happiness is not indifference to that of others : 
I rejoice that every one should have his tastes and his 
pleasures. That I am conceited, it would be folly to deny : 
what artist, what thinker, what parent does not over 
estimate his own offspring ? Can I suppress an irresistible 
sense of seeing things clearly, and a keen delight in so 
seeing them ? Frankly, I think these attitudes of mine 
are justified by the facts ; but I entirely understand how 
offensive they must be to any one who thinks they are not 
justified, or who fears that they may be. Let the irritant 
work. The arrows of anger miss their mark. Aimed at 
some imaginary evil bird in the heavens, they scarcely 
startle the poet wandering in his dell. He hears them pass 
over his head and bury their venom far away in the young 
grass. Far away too his friends are designing his vain 
cenotaph, and inscribing it with seemly words in large 

On the other hand, in respect to my impersonal opinions, 
I notice a little bewilderment, and some obtuseness. Of 
course, if people are repelled by the subject or by the 
manner (which is an integral part of the thought) and find 
it all unintelligible, that is no fault of theirs, nor of mine ; 
but I speak of the initiated and of such as are willing to 
lend their minds to my sort of lucubration. For instance, 
when more than twenty years ago, I wrote some Interpreta 
tions of Poetry and Religion, this is what William James 
said of them : " What a perfection of rottenness . . . how 
fantastic a philosophy ! as if the world of values were 
independent of existence. It is only as being that one 
thing is better than another. The idea of darkness is as 
good as that of light, as ideas. There is more value in 
light s being." William James was a " radical empiricist/ 
so that for him the being of light could not have meant 
anything except its being in idea, in experience. The fan 
tastic view must therefore be some other ; apparently that 
in the realm of unrealized essences, apart from any observer, 
one essence can be better than another. But how could 
any one attribute such a view to me ? The whole conten- 


tion of my book was that the glow of human emotion 
lent a value to good poetry which it denied to bad, and to 
one idea of God which it denied to another. My position 
in this matter was that of empirical philosophy, and of 
William James himself. In his book on Pragmatism he 
says that the being of atoms is just as good as the being 
of God, if both produce the same effects in human ex 
perience ; and I remember once mildly protesting to him 
on that point, and asking him if, apart from these effects 
on us, the existence of God, assuming God to be conscious, 
would not have a considerable value in itself ; and he 
replied, " Of course ; but I was thinking of our idea." 
This was exactly the attitude of my book ; I was thinking 
of our religious and poetic ideas, and reducing their value 
to what they stood for in the elements of our experience, 
or in our destiny. 

I think I see, however, where the trouble lies. The 
practical intellect conceives everything as a source of 
influence. Whether it be matter or other people, or 
tutelary spirits, that which we envisage in action and 
passion is not our idea of these objects, but their operation 
on us, or our operation on them. Now a source of influence 
cannot be non-existent. Accordingly, what concerns 
earnest people in their religion is something, they know 
not what, which is real. They are not interested in forming 
poetic or dramatic pictures of the gods, as the Greeks did 
in their mythology, but rather in finding a living God to 
help them, as even the Greeks did in their home cultus and 
their oracles. This living God, since he is to operate and 
to be worked upon, must exist ; otherwise the whole 
practice of religion becomes a farce. So also in love or 
in science, it would be egotistical and affected to gloat 
on our own ideal, turning our backs on the adorable person 
or the natural process before us. It is the danger of 
empirical and critical philosophy, that it turns our atten 
tion stubbornly to the subjective : legitimately, I think, 
if the purpose is merely to study the growth and logic of 
our beliefs, but illegitimately, if the purpose is malicious, 
and if it is assumed that once we have understood how our 
beliefs are formed we shall abandon them and believe 
nothing. Empiricism and idealism are, as Kant called 


them, excellent cathartics, but they are nasty food ; and 
if we try to build them up into a system of the universe 
the effort is not only self-contradictory (because we ought 
then to possess only ideas without beliefs) but the result 
is, in the words of William James, fantastic and rotten. 

Now, however much I may have studied the human 
imagination, I have never doubted that even highly 
imaginative things, like poetry and religion, express real 
events, if not in the outer world, at least in the inner 
growth or discipline of life. Like the daily experience 
of the senses and like the ideas of science, they form a 
human language, all the terms of which are poetical and its 
images dream-images, but which symbolizes things and 
events beyond it and is controlled from outside. This 
would be perfectly evident to any other animal who should 
discover how men see the world or what they think of it : 
why should we be less intelligent than any other animal 
would be about ourselves ? Enlightenment consists in 
coming nearer and nearer to the natural objects that lend 
a practical meaning to our mental discourse ; and when 
the material significance of our dreams is thus discovered, 
we are lost in admiration at the originality, humour, and 
pictorial grandeur of the imagery in which our experience 
comes to us, as we might be at the decorative marvels of 
tapestry or of stained glass : but now without illusion. 
For we can now discriminate the rhythms and colour 
proper to our mental atmosphere from the extrinsic value 
of discourse as a sign for things and events beyond it. 
These external things and events make up what we call 
nature. It is nature, or some part of nature, or some 
movement of nature occurring within us or affecting us, 
that is the true existent object of religion, of science, and 
of love. The rest is a mere image. 

My naturalism is sometimes taxed with being dogmatic, 
and if I were anxious to avoid that reproach, I might easily 
reduce my naturalism to a definition and say that if ex 
perience has any sources whatever, the sum and system of 
these sources shall be called nature. I know what specu 
lative difficulties cluster about the notion of cause, which in 
one sense is quite unnecessary to science; but so long as 
time, process, and derivation are admitted at all, events 


may be traced back to earlier events which were their 
sources ; and this universal flux of events will be called 
nature. Any existing persons, and any gods exercising 
power, will evidently be parts of nature. But I am not 
concerned to avoid dogmatism on such a point. Every 
assertion about existence is hazarded, it rests on animal 
faith, not on logical proof ; and every argument to support 
naturalism, or to rebut it, implies naturalism. To deny 
that there are any facts (if scepticism can be carried so 
far) is still to dogmatize, no less than it would be to point 
to some fact in particular ; in either case we descend into 
the arena of existence, which may betray our confidence. 
Any fact is an existence which discourse plays about and 
regards, but does not create. It is the essence of the 
practical intellect to prophesy about nature, and we must 
all do it. As to the truth of our prophecy, that is always 
problematical, because nature is whatever nature happens 
to be ; and as to our knowledge, starting as it does from a 
single point, the present position of the thinker, and falling 
away rapidly in clearness and certainty as the perspective 
recedes, it cannot pretend to draw the outlines of nature 
a priori : yet our knowledge of nature, in our neighbour 
hood and moral climate, is very considerable, since every 
known fact is a part of nature. It is quite idle to 
deny, for instance, that human life depends on cosmic 
and hygienic influences ; or that in the end all human 
operations must run back somehow to the rotation of the 
earth, to the rays of the sun, to the moisture and fructifica 
tion of the soil, to the ferment there of vegetative and 
dreaming spirits, quickened in animals endowed with loco 
motion into knowledge of surrounding things : whence the 
passionate imaginations which we find in ourselves. I 
know that things might have been arranged otherwise ; 
and some of those alternative worlds may be minutely 
thought out in myth or in philosophy, in obedience to 
some dialectical or moral impulse of the human mind ; 
but that all those other worlds are figments of fancy, 
interesting as poetry is interesting, and that only the 
natural world, the world of medicine and commerce, is 
actual, is obvious ; so obvious to every man in his sane 
moments, that I have always thought it idle to argue the 


point. Argument is not persuasive to madmen ; but 
they can be won over by gentler courses to a gradual 
docility to the truth. One of these gentler courses is this : 
to remember that madness is human, that dreams have 
their springs in the depths of human nature and of human 
experience ; and that the illusion they cause may be 
kindly and even gloriously dispelled by showing what 
the solid truth was which they expressed allegorically. 
Why should one be^angry with dreams, with myth, with 
allegory, with madness ? We must not kill the mind, 
as some rationalists do, in trying to cure it. The life of 
reason, as I conceive it, is simply the dreaming mind 
becoming coherent, devising symbols and methods, such 
as languages, by which it may fitly survey its own career, 
and the forces of nature on which that career depends. 
Reason thereby raises our vegetative dream into a poetic 
revelation and transcript of the truth. That all this life 
of expression grows up in animals living in the material 
world is the deliverance of reason itself, in our lucid 
moments ; but my books, being descriptive of the imagina 
tion and having perhaps some touches of imagination in 
them, may not seem to have expressed my lucid moments 
alone. They were, however, intended to do so ; and I 
ought to have warned my readers more often that such was 
the case. 

I have no metaphysics, and in that sense I am no 
philosopher, but a poor ignoramus trusting what he hears 
from the men of science. I rely on them to discover gradu 
ally exactly which elements in their description of nature 
may be literally true, and which merely symbolical : even 
if they were all symbolical, they would be true enough for 
me. My naturalism is not at all afraid of the latest theories 
of space, time, or matter : what I understand of them, I 
like, and am ready to believe, for I am a follower of 
Plato in his doctrine that only knowledge of ideas (if we 
call it knowledge) can be literal and exact, whilst practical 
knowledge is necessarily mythical in form, precisely because 
its object exists and is external to us. An arbitrary sign, 
indication, or name can point to something unambiguously, 
without at all fathoming its nature, and therefore can be 
knowledge of fact : which an aesthetic or logical elucida- 


tion of ideas can never be. Every idea of sense or science 
is a summary sign, on a different plane and scale altogether 
from the diffuse material facts which it covers : one 
unexampled colour for many rays, one indescribable note 
for many vibrations, one picture for many particles of 
paint, one word for a series of noises or letters. A word 
is a very Platonic thing : you cannot say when it begins, 
when it ends, how long it lasts, nor where it ever is ; and 
yet it is the only unit you mean to utter, or normally 
hear. Platonism is the intuition of essences in the presence 
of things, in order to describe them : it is mind itself. 

I am quite happy in this human ignorance mitigated 
by pictures, for it yields practical security and poetic 
beauty : what more can a sane man want ? In this 
respect I think sometimes I am the only philosopher 
living : I am resigned to being a mind. I have put my 
hand into the hand of nature, and a thrill of sympathy 
has passed from her into my very heart, so that I can 
instinctively see all things, and see myself, from her point 
of view : a sympathy which emboldens me often to say 
to her, " Mother, tell me a story." Not the fair Sheherazad 
herself knew half the marvellous tales that nature spins in 
the brains of her children. But I must not let go her hand 
in my wonder, or I might be bewitched and lost in the maze 
of her inventions. 

A workman must not quarrel with his tools, nor the 
mind with ideas ; and I have little patience with those 
philanthropists who hate everything human, and would 
reform away everything that men love or can love. Yet 
if we dwell too lovingly on the human quality and poetic 
play of ideas, we may forget that they are primarily signs. 
The practical intellect is always on the watch for ambient 
existences, in order to fight or to swallow them : and if 
by chance its attention is arrested at an idea, it will 
instinctively raise that idea to the throne of power which 
should be occupied only by the thing which it stands for 
and poetically describes. Ideas lend themselves to idolatry. 
There is a continual incidental deception into which we 
are betrayed by the fictitious and symbolical terms of our 
knowledge, in that we suppose these terms to form the 
whole essence of their objects. I think I have never failed 


to point out this danger of illusion, and to protest against 
idolatry in thought, so much more frequent and dangerous 
than the worship of stocks and stones ; but at the same 
time, as such idolatry is almost inevitable, and as the 
fictions so deified often cover some true force or harmony 
in nature, I have sometimes been tempted in my heart to 
condone this illusion. In my youth it seemed as if a 
scientific philosophy was unattainable ; human life, I 
thought, was at best a dream, and if we were not the 
dupes of one error, we should be the dupes of another ; 
and whilst of course the critic must make this mental 
reservation in all his assents, it was perhaps too much to 
ask mankind to do so ; so that in practice we were con 
demned to overlook the deceptiveness of fable, because 
there would be less beauty and no more truth in whatever 
theory might take its place. I think now that this despair 
of finding a scientific philosophy was premature, and 
that the near future may actually produce one : not that 
its terms will be less human and symbolical than those to 
which we are accustomed, but that they may hug more 
closely the true movement and the calculable order of 
nature. The truth, though it must be expressed in 
language, is not for that reason a form of error. No doubt 
the popularizers of science will turn its language into a 
revelation, and its images into idols ; but the abstract 
character of these symbols will render it easier for the 
judicious to preserve the distinction between the things 
to be described and the science which describes them. 

Was it, I wonder, this touch of sympathy with splendid 
error, bred in me by long familiarity with religion and 
philosophy, that offended my honest critics ? Now that I 
show less sympathy with it, will they be better satisfied ? 
I fear the opposite is the case. What they resented was 
rather that in spite of all my sympathy, and of all my 
despair about science, it never occurred to me to think 
those errors true, because they were splendid, except true 
to the soul. Did they expect that I should seriously debate 
whether the Ghost in Hamlet really came out of Purgatorial 
fires, and whether Athena really descended in her chariot 
from Olympus and pulled Achilles by his yellow hair when 
he was in danger of doing something rash ? Frankly, I 


have assumed perhaps prematurely that such questions 
are settled. I am not able nor willing to write a system 
of magic cosmology, nor to propose a new religion. I 
merely endeavour to interpret, as sympathetically and 
imaginatively as I can, the religion and poetry already 
familiar to us ; and I interpret them, of course, on their 
better side, not as childish science, but as subtle creations 
of hope, tenderness, and ignorance. 

So anxious was I, when younger, to find some rational 
justification for poetry and religion, and to show that 
their magic was significant of true facts, that I insisted 
too much, as I now think, on the need of relevance to fact 
even in poetry. Not only did I distinguish good religion 
from bad by its expression of practical wisdom, and of the 
moral discipline that makes for happiness in this world, 
but I maintained that the noblest poetry also must express 
the moral burden of life and must be rich in wisdom. Age 
has made me less exacting, and I can now find quite 
sufficient perfection in poetry, like that of the Chinese and 
Arabians, without much philosophic scope, in mere grace 
and feeling and music and cloud-castles and frolic. I 
assumed formerly that an idea could have depth and 
richness only if somehow redolent of former experiences 
of an overt kind. I had been taught to assign no substance 
to the mind, but to conceive it as a system of successive 
ideas, the later ones mingling with a survival of the earlier, 
and forming a cumulative experience, like a swelling 
musical movement. Now, without ceasing to conceive 
mental discourse in that way, I have learned, with the 
younger generation, to rely more on the substructure, on 
the material and psychical machinery that puts this 
conscious show on the stage, and pulls the wires. Not that 
I ever denied or really doubted that this substructure 
existed, but that I thought it a more prudent and critical 
method in philosophy not to assume it. Certainly it is a 
vast assumption ; but I see now an irony in scepticism 
which I did not see when I was more fervid a sceptic ; 
namely, that in addressing anybody, or even myself, I 
have already made that assumption ; and that if I tried 
to rescind it, I should only be making another, no less 
gratuitous, and far more extravagant ; I should be assum- 


ing that the need of making this assumption was a fatal 
illusion, rather than a natural revelation of the existence 
of an environment to a living animal. This environment 
has been called the unknowable, the unconscious and the 
subconscious egotistical and absurd names for it, as if 
its essence was the difficulty we have in approaching it. 
Its proper names are matter, substance, nature, or soul ; 
and I hope people will learn again to call it by those old 
names. When living substance is thus restored beneath 
the surface of experience, there is no longer any reason 
for assuming that the first song of a bird may not be 
infinitely rich and as deep as heaven, if it utters the vital 
impulses of that moment with enough completeness. 
The analogies of this utterance with other events, or its 
outlying suggestions, whilst they may render it more 
intelligible to a third person, would not add much to its 
inward force and intrinsic beauty. Its lyric adequacy, 
though of course not independent of nature, would be 
independent of wisdom. If besides being an adequate 
expression of the soul, the song expressed the lessons of a 
broad experience, which that soul had gathered and 
digested, this fact certainly would lend a great tragic 
sublimity to that song ; but to be poetical or religious 
intrinsically, the mystic cry is enough. 

I notice that men of the world, when they dip into my 
books, find them consistent, almost oppressively consistent, 
and to the ladies everything is crystal - clear ; yet the 
philosophers say that it is lazy and self-indulgent of me 
not to tell them plainly what I think, if I know myself 
what it is. Because I describe madness sympathetically, 
because I lose myself in the dreaming mind, and see the 
world from that transcendental point of vantage, while at 
the same time interpreting that dream by its presumable 
motives and by its moral tendencies, these quick and 
intense reasoners suppose that I am vacillating in my own 
opinions. My own opinions are a minor matter, and there 
was usually no need, for the task in hand, that I should 
put them forward ; yet as a matter of fact, since I reached 
the age of manhood, they have not changed. In my 
adolescence I thought this earthly life (not unintelligibly, 
considering what I had then seen and heard of it) a most 


hideous thing, and I was not disinclined to dismiss it as 
an illusion, for which perhaps the Catholic epic might 
be substituted to advantage, as conforming better to the 
impulses of the soul ; and later I liked to regard all systems 
as alternative illusions for the solipsist ; but neither 
solipsism nor Catholicism were ever anything to me but 
theoretic poses or possibilities ; vistas for the imagination, 
never convictions. I was well aware, as I am still, that 
any such vista may be taken for true, because all dreams 
are persuasive while they last ; and I have not lost, nor 
do I wish to lose, a certain facility and pleasure in taking 
those points of view at will, and speaking those philosophical 
languages. But though as a child I regretted the fact and 
now I hugely enjoy it, I have never been able to elude the 
recurring, invincible, and ironic conviction that whenever 
I or any other person feign to be living in any of those 
non-natural worlds, we are simply dreaming awake. 

In general, I think my critics attribute to me more 
illusions than I have. My dogmatism may be a fault of 
temper or manner, because I dislike to stop to qualify or 
to explain everything ; but in principle it is raised more 
diffidently and on a deeper scepticism than most of the 
systems which are called critical. My " essences," for 
instance, are blamed for being gratuitous inventions or 
needless abstractions. But essences appear precisely when 
all inventions are rescinded and the irreducible manifest 
datum is disclosed. I do not ask any one to believe in 
essences. I ask them to reject every belief, and what they 
will have on their hands, if they do so, will be some 
essence. And if, believing nothing, they could infinitely 
enlarge their imagination, the whole realm of essence would 
loom before them. This realm is no discovery of mine ; 
it has been described, for instance, by Leibniz in two 
different ways ; once as the collection of all possible worlds, 
and again as the abyss of non-existence, le neant, of which 
he says : " The non-existent ... is infinite, it is eternal, 
it has a great many of the attributes of God ; it contains 
an infinity of things, since all those things which do not 
exist at all are included in the non-existent, and those 
which no longer exist have returned to the non-existent." 
It suffices, therefore, that we deny a thing for us to recog- 


nize an essence, if we know at all what we are denying. 
And the essence before us, whether we assert or deny its 
existence, is certainly no abstraction ; for there is no other 
datum, more individual or more obvious, from which the 
abstraction could be drawn. The difficulty in discern 
ing essences is simply the very real difficulty which the 
practical intellect has in abstaining from belief, and from 
everywhere thinking it finds much more than is actually 

Profound scepticism is favourable to conventions, 
because it doubts that the criticism of conventions is any 
truer than they are. Fervent believers look for some 
system of philosophy or religion that shall be literally 
true and worthy of superseding the current assumptions 
of daily life. I look for no such thing. Never for a 
moment can I bring myself to regard a human system a 
piece of mental discourse as more than a system of 
notation, sometimes picturesque, sometimes abstract and 
mathematical. Scientific symbols, terms in which calcula 
tion is possible, may replace poetic symbols, which merely 
catch echoes of the senses or make up dramatic units out 
of appearances in the gross. But the most accurate 
scientific system would still be only a method of description, 
and the actual facts would continue to rejoice in their own 
ways of being. The relevance and truth of science, like 
the relevance and truth of sense, are pragmatic, in that 
they mark the actual relations, march, and distribution 
of events, in the terms in which they enter our experience. 

In moral philosophy (which is my chosen subject) I 
find my unsophisticated readers, as I found my pupils 
formerly, delightfully appreciative, warmly sympathetic, 
and altogether friends of mine in the spirit. It is a joy, 
like that of true conversation, to look and laugh and cry 
at the world so unfeignedly together. But the other 
philosophers, and those whose religion is of the anxious 
and intolerant sort, are not at all pleased. They think 
my morality very loose : I am a friend of publicans and 
sinners, not (as they are) in zeal to reform them, but because 
I like them as they are ; and indeed I am a pagan and a 
moral sceptic in my naturalism. On the other hand (and 
this seems a contradiction to them), my moral philosophy 



looks strangely negative and narrow ; a philosophy of 
abstention and distaste for life. What a horrible combina 
tion, they say to themselves, of moral licence with moral 
poverty ! They do not see that it is because I love life 
that I wish to keep it sweet, so as to be able to love it 
altogether : and that all I wish for others, or dare to 
recommend to them, is that they should keep their lives 
sweet also, not after my fashion, but each man in his own 
way. I talk a great deal about the good and the ideal, 
having learned from Plato and Aristotle (since the living 
have never shown me how to live) that, granting a human 
nature to which to appeal, the good and the ideal may 
be defined with some accuracy. Of course, they cannot 
be denned immutably, because human nature is not 
immutable ; and they cannot be denned in such a way 
as to be transferred without change from one race or 
person to another, because human nature is various. Yet 
any reflective and honest man, in expressing his hopes 
and preferences, may expect to find many of his neighbours 
agreeing with him, and when they agree, they may work 
politically together. Now I am sometimes blamed for not 
labouring more earnestly to bring down the good of which 
I prate into the lives of other men. My critics suppose, 
apparently, that I mean by the good some particular way 
of life or some type of character which is alone virtuous, 
and which ought to be propagated. Alas, their propa 
gandas ! How they have filled this world with hatred, 
darkness, and blood ! How they are still the eternal 
obstacle, in every home and in every heart, to a simple 
happiness ! I have no wish to propagate any particular 
character, least of all my own ; my conceit does not take 
that form. I wish individuals, and races, and nations to 
be themselves, and to multiply the forms of perfection 
and happiness, as nature prompts them. The only thing 
which I think might be propagated without injustice to 
the types thereby suppressed is harmony ; enough harmony 
to prevent the interference of one type with another, and 
to allow the perfect development of each type. The good, 
as I conceive it, is happiness, happiness for each man 
after his own heart, and for each hour according to its 
inspiration. I should dread to transplant my happiness 


into other people ; it might die in that soil ; and my 
critics are the first to tell me that my sort of happiness 
is a poor thing in their estimation. Well and good. I 
congratulate them on their true loves : but how should I 
be able to speed them on their course ? They do not 
place their happiness in the things I have, or can give. 
No man can set up an ideal for another, nor labour to realize 
it for him, save by his leave or as his spokesman, perhaps 
more ready with the right word. To find the compara 
tively right word, my critics seem to agree, is my art. 
Do I not practise it for their benefit as best I can ? Is it 
I who am indifferent to the being of light ? Who loves 
it more, or basks in it more joyfully ? And do I do 
nothing that the light may come ? Is it I who tremble 
lest at its coming it should dissolve the creatures begotten 
in darkness ? Ah, I know why my critics murmur and 
are dissatisfied. I do not endeavour to deceive myself, 
nor to deceive them, nor to aid them in deceiving them 
selves. They will never prevail on me to do that. I am 
a disciple of Socrates. 


A TRAVELLER should be devout to Hermes, and I have 
always loved him above the other gods for that charm 
ing union which is found in him of youth with experience, 
alacrity with prudence, modesty with laughter, and a ready 
tongue with a sound heart. In him the first bubblings of 
mockery subside at once into courtesy and helpfulness. 
He is the winged Figaro of Olympus, willing to yield to 
others in station and to pretend to serve them, but really 
wiser and happier than any of them. There is a certain 
roguery in him, and the habit of winking at mischief. He 
has a great gift for dissertation, and his abundant eloquence, 
always unimpeachable in form and in point, does not hug 
the truth so closely as pious people might expect in a god 
who, as they say sagaciously, can have no motive for lying. 
But gods do not need motives. The lies of Hermes are 
jests ; they represent things as they might have been, and 


serve to show what a strange accident the truth is. The 
reproach which Virgil addresses to his Juno, " Such malig 
nity in minds celestial ? " could never apply to this amiable 
divinity, who, if he is a rascal at all (which I do not admit), 
is a disinterested rascal. He has given no pawns to fortune, 
he is not a householder, he is not pledged against his will to 
any cause. Homer tells us that Hermes was a thief ; but 
the beauty of mythology is that every poet can recast it 
according to his own insight and sense of propriety ; as, in 
fact, our solemn theologians do also, although they pretend 
that their theology is a science, and are not wide awake 
enough to notice the dreamful, dramatic impulse which 
leads them to construct it. Now, in my vision, the thievery 
of Hermes, and the fact that he was the patron of robbers, 
merchants, rhetoricians, and liars, far from being unworthy 
of his divine nature, are a superb and humorous expression 
of it. He did not steal the cattle of Apollo for profit. 
Apollo himself a most exquisite young god did not give 
a fig for his cattle nor for his rustic employment ; in 
adopting it he was doing a kind turn to a friend, or had 
a love-lorn scheme or a wager afoot, or merely wished for 
the moment to be idyllic. It was a pleasant scherzo (after 
the andante which he played in the heavens, in his capacity 
of sun-god and inspirer of all prophets) to lean gracefully 
here on his herdsman s staff, or to lie under a tuft of trees 
on some mossy hillock, in the midst of his pasturing kine, 
and to hold the poor peeping dryads spellbound by the 
operatic marvels of his singing. In purloining those oxen, 
Hermes, who was a very little boy at the time, simply 
wanted to mock these affectations of his long-haired elder 
brother ; and Apollo, truly an enraptured artist and not 
a prig, and invulnerable like Hermes in his godlike freedom, 
did not in the least mind the practical joke, nor the ridicule, 
but was the first to join in the laugh. 

When Hermes consents to be the patron of thieves and 
money-lenders it is in the same spirit. Standing, purse in 
hand, in his little shrine above their dens, he smiles as if 
to remind them that everything is trash which mortals can 
snatch from one another by thieving or bargaining, and 
that the purpose of all their voyages, and fairs, and high 
way robberies is a bauble, such as the dirty children playing 


in the street set up as a counter in their game. But 
Hermes is not impatient even of the gutter-snipes, with 
their cries and their shrill quarrels. He laughs at their 
grimaces ; their jests do not seem emptier to him than 
those of their elders ; he is not offended at their rags, but 
sends sleep to them as they lie huddled under some arch 
way or stretched in the sun upon the temple steps. He 
presides no less benignly over thieves kitchens and over 
the shipyards and counting-houses of traders ; not that he 
cares at all who makes the profit or who hoards the 
treasure, but that sagacity and the hum of business are 
delightful to him in themselves. He likes to cull the 
passion and sparkle out of the most sordid life, and the 
confused rumble of civilization is pleasant to his senses, 
like a sweet vapour rising from the evening sacrifice. 

His admirable temper and mastery of soul appear in 
nothing more clearly than in his love-affair with the 
beautiful Maia. She is ill-spoken of, but he is very, very 
fond of her, and deeply happy in her love. It is a secret 
relation, although everybody has heard of it ; but the 
nymph is a mystery ; in fact, although everybody has 
seen her at one time or another, no one has ever known 
then that it was she. Hermes alone recognizes and loves 
her in her own person, and calls her by her name ; but 
privately. Sometimes, with that indiscretion and over- 
familiarity which the young allow themselves in their cups, 
his brothers ask him where he meets her ; and he only 
smiles a little and is silent. She is said to be a wild un 
manageable being, half maenad and half shrew; a waif 
always appearing and disappearing without any reason, 
and in her fitful temper at once exacting and tedious. 
Her eyes are sometimes blue and sometimes black, like 
heaven. Empty-headed and too gay, some people think 
her ; but others understand that she is constitutionally 
melancholy and quite mad. They say she often sits alone, 
hardly distinguishable in the speckled sunshine of the 
forest, or else by the sea, spreading her hair to the wind 
and moaning : and then Hermes flies to her and comforts 
her, for she is an exile everywhere and he is everywhere 
at home. It is rumoured that in the ^ East she has had a 
great position, and has been Queen or the Universe ; but 


in Europe she has no settled metaphysical status, and it 
is not known whether she is leally a goddess, mistress 
over herself, or only a fay or a phantom at other people s 
beck and call ; and she has nowhere any temple or rustic 
sanctuary or respectable oracle. Moreover, she has in 
expressibly shocked the virtuous, who think so much of 
genealogy, by saying, as is reported, that she has no idea 
who is the father of her children. Hermes laughs merrily 
at this, calling it one of her harmless sallies, which she 
indulges in simply because they occur to her, and because 
she likes to show her independence and to flout the sober 
censors of this world. He is perfectly confident s^e has 
never had any wooer but himself, nor would dream of 
accepting any other. Even with him she is always reverting 
to stubborn refusals and denials and calling him names ; 
but when the spitfire is raging most angrily, he has only 
to gaze at her steadily and throw his arm gaily about her, 
as much as to say, " Don t be a fool," for her to be in 
stantly mollified and confess that it was all make-believe, 
but that she couldn t help it. Then it is wonderful how 
reasonable she becomes, how perfectly trustful and frank, 
so that no companion could be more deeply delightful. 
She is as light as a feather, then, in his arms. The truth 
is, she lives only for him ; she really has no children, only 
young sisters who are also more or less in love with him 
and he with them ; and she sleeps her whole life long in 
his absence. In all those strange doings and wanderings 
reported of her she is only walking in her sleep. The 
approach of Hermes awakes her and lends her life the 
only life she has. Her true name is Illusion ; and it is 
very characteristic of him, so rich in pity, merriment, and 
shrewdness, to have chosen this poor child, Illusion, for 
his love. 

Hermes is the great interpreter, the master of riddles. 
I should not honour him for his skill in riddles if I thought 
he invented them wantonly, because he liked to puzzle 
himself with them, or to reduce other people to a foolish 
perplexity without cause. I hate enigmas ; and if I be 
lieved that Hermes was the inspirer of those odious persons 
who are always asking conundrums and making puns I 
should renounce him altogether, break his statue, turn his 


picture to the wall, and devote myself exclusively to the 
cult of some sylvan deity, all silence and simple light. But 
I am sure Hermes loves riddles only because they are no 
riddles to him ; he is never caught in the tangle, and he 
laughs to see how unnecessarily poor opinionated mortals 
befool themselves, wilfully following any devious scent 
once they are on it by chance, and missing the obvious for 
ever. He gives them what sly hints he can to break the 
spell of their blindness ; but they are so wedded to their 
false preconceptions that they do not understand him, and 
are only the more perplexed. Sometimes, however, they 
take the hint, their wit grows nimble, their thoughts catch 
fire, and insight, solving every idle riddle, harmonizes the 
jarring cords of the mind. 

The wand of Hermes has serpents wound about it, 
but is capped with wings, so that at its touch the sting 
and the coil of care may vanish, and that we may be 
freed from torpor and dull enchantment, and may see, 
as the god does, how foolish we are. All these mysteries 
that befog us are not mysteries really ; they are the 
mother-tongue of nature. Rustics, and also philosophers, 
think that any language but theirs is gibberish ; they are 
sorry for the stranger who can speak only an unintelligible 
language, and are sure he will be damned unless the truth is 
preached to him speedily by some impertinent missionary 
from their own country. They even argue with nature, 
trying to convince her that she cannot move, or cannot think, 
or cannot have more dimensions than those of their under 
standing. Oh for a touch of the healing wand of Hermes 
the Interpreter, that we might understand the language of 
the birds and the stars, and, laughing first at what they 
say of us, might then see our image in the mirror of 
infinity, and laugh at ourselves ! Here is a kindly god 
indeed, humane though superhuman, friendly though in 
violate, who does not preach, who does not threaten, who 
does not lay new, absurd, or morose commands on our 
befuddled souls, but who unravels, who relieves, who shows 
us the innocence of the things we hated and the clearness 
of the things we frowned on or denied. He interprets us 
to the gods, and they accept us ; he interprets us to one 
another, and we perceive that the foreigner, too, spoke a 


plain language : happy he if he was wise in his own tongue. 
It is for the divine herald alone to catch the meaning of 
all, without subduing his merry voice to any dialect of 
mortals. He mocks our stammerings and forgives them ; 
and when we say anything to the purpose, and reach any 
goal which, however wantonly, we had proposed to our 
selves, he applauds and immensely enjoys our little achieve 
ment ; for it is inspired by him and like his own. May 
he be my guide : and not in this world only, in which the 
way before me seems to descend gently, quite straight and 
clear, towards an unruffled sea ; but at the frontiers of 
eternity let him receive my spirit, reconciling it, by his 
gracious greeting, to what had been its destiny. For he 
is the friend of the shades also, and makes the greatest 
interpretation of all, that of life into truth, translating the 
swift words of time into the painted language of eternity. 
That is for the dead ; but for living men, whose feet must 
move forward whilst their eyes see only backward, he 
interprets the past to the future, for its guidance and 
ornament. Often, too, he bears news to his father and 
brothers in Olympus, concerning any joyful or beautiful 
thing that is done on earth, lest they should despise or 
forget it. In that fair inventory and chronicle of happiness 
let my love of him be remembered. 


Printed in Great Britain by R. & R. CLARK, LIMITED, Edinburgh.